Saturday, September 25, 2010

Broccoli Casserole

Our CSA farm grows some fine brassicas. And now is the time when they’re coming in full force, with a recent huge head of bok choy, and big bunches of broccoli in each of the last two weeks’ boxes. I was glad for the second bunch so soon, because that gave me a chance to change a few things in this broccoli casserole recipe right away and try it again.

The recipe starts with a big pile of lovely, dark green, nutritious, vitamin rich, fiber-filled broccoli. If you happen to be a health nut, however, it kind of goes downhill from there. I slathered the broccoli in a mustardy cheddar cheese sauce and topped it with, instead of breadcrumbs, big rye bread croutons with a coating of more mustard and butter.

This all started from a couple different broccoli casserole recipes I had tried that were pretty good, but fell a little short, probably because they were attempts to lighten a pretty caloric dish and add some flavor elements that just weren’t filling the gaps. I went back to a good ol’ roux-based, mustard-laced cheese sauce for my broccoli, and I have no regrets. (I stay away from bathroom scales when I’m going to be writing about food.)

I’m not sure how I got the idea for the mustard croutons for the topping of the casserole, but I think it quickly followed the idea that I was too lazy to make decent breadcrumbs. I had some notes to myself to try a mustard breadcrumb topping, but I couldn’t find the recipe in time (not a rare occurrence) so I did what made sense to me: I mixed plain and coarse Dijon mustard with melted butter and coated chunks of caraway rye bread with the mixture. I used a homemade bread, which I liked because I could cut it as thickly as I wanted. You could use whatever bread you want, but get it unsliced or thickly sliced if you can, so you can make a big, crunchy rustic topping. I really like brassicas with caraway, mustard and rye (broccoli sandwich, anyone?) and I thought the balance of those flavors was quite nice in this casserole.

This dish does take a long time to make, but as it bakes, you can prepare some quick additions to your meal. Just because it’s more of a side dish doesn’t mean it can’t be the star of the show. I served it with a fried ham steak and a green salad suspiciously similar to this one. Just remember, no matter what you have done to the broccoli, it’s still broccoli. You’re still eating your veggies. If they just happen to be more comforting and taste better with cheese sauce and rye bread, there’s really nobody to blame.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons

Microwaved leftovers of this dish are kind of soggy, but still good. I warmed the leftovers in the microwave, then heated them in the oven at 350 F (or perhaps you could use the broiler) until the topping was crisp.

1 pound (about 500 g) broccoli crowns and tender stems
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (1 ½ ounces or about 40 g)
1 heaping cup onion, thinly sliced (about 5 ounces or 125 g)
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) coarse salt, divided
1 tablespoon (15 ml) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk (I used 2 %)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) coarse grain mustard, divided
¼ teaspoon (1.5 ml) black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.75 ml) freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces (about 125 g) shredded cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
5 ounces (about 150 g) rye bread, cut into 1- 1 ½ inch cubes
1 tablespoon (15 ml) regular Dijon mustard

1. Cut the broccoli crowns and stems into bite-size pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Add the broccoli and cook 3 minutes. Drain very well, getting out as much water as possible and set aside.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes or until the onion has softened and is beginning to brown. Remove the onion from the pan and set aside.

3. Return the pan to the heat and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter has melted, slowly whisk in the flour. Cook and whisk about 1 minute. Make sure there are no flour lumps.

4. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture begins to boil. Cook at a gentle boil about 1 minute, or until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 tablespoon coarse mustard, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Put the broccoli in a shallow 2 quart (2 liter) baking dish. Spread the onions evenly over the top of the broccoli. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the broccoli and onions, spreading and gently mixing to get it evenly distributed.

6. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the regular Dijon mustard and the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) coarse mustard. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the butter mixture over them and toss gently to coat.

7. Distribute the bread cubes on top of the broccoli mixture. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 40 minutes. If the bread is getting too dark in color at any point, loosely tent it with foil. Cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Broccoli and Chickpea Salad with Mustard-Pepper Dressing, Summer Squash Casserole with Basil and Onion

One year ago: Caramel Dip for Apples

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