Easter, Plain and Fancy

I sort of forgot about Easter. Because we celebrate Christ’s resurrection every Sunday, Easter does not have the significance for us that it has for many. We usually color Easter eggs and have some candy, but a busy schedule and ever-aging adolescents made this the first year we forewent the egg-dying, and a smaller amount of candy given to us a week or two before the holiday got consumed well in advance of the day itself.

So, Easter basically slipped my mind until Saturday in the late afternoon when an image of “ham” cruised through my brain. The Husband graciously ran to the grocery store to get the half ham I requested, but I should have been more specific, because he came home with a spiral-sliced, already glazed hunk o’ yuck that cost twice what your basic, let-the-cook-doctor-it-up ham would have set us back. Ah, well. I was uncharacteristically silent about my disappointment. I had a few potatoes chasing around the pantry and some frozen vegetables. With these humble ingredients I threw together a plain Easter dinner, just the sort my less-adventurous family members prefer:

Baked Ham, with a strangely chemically-smelling glaze that ends up tasting fairly ok
Basic Mashed Potatoes
Buttered Corn
Green Beans
Martin’s Potato Rolls (one of the best things on the planet)

I enjoyed my meal, but I have to admit I felt a little let down, or at least decidedly un-festive. At least it took very little time to cook.

With only four diners, we had a lot of ham leftovers, but that’s fine, because I love, love, love leftovers. This morning, I got inspired to make a second Easter dinner to eat tonight, just because I’m in charge of the kitchen and I can. So, the menu for Easter Monday is:

Leftover Baked Ham
Vegetable au Gratin
Deviled Eggs with the First Herbs of Spring
Rolls yet-to-be-determined
Salad

About the deviled eggs: we’re at the time of the year when I take a tour of the yard nearly every day, hoping, hoping to see something obviously alive amongst all the brown and dead. So far, the first straggly chives have appeared in their clump, needing a haircut to the ground before they give us the really good stems, and the tarragon has sprouted frost-bitten, sad little shoots right above the surface of the dirt and still below last year’s thick, sharp cut-off stems. I brought the handful of chives and a couple of tarragon shoots inside, gave them a thorough wash, and will pick out what’s usable for the egg filling.

The Vegetable Gratin was intended to be a gratin of spinach. My mom gave me one of those enormous tubs of baby spinach before they went out of town a few days ago. It was past using fresh, but I knew it would be fine to cook. The only way my family happily eats cooked spinach is if it’s coated with lashings of cream and handfuls of cheese, and a spinach gratin is one of my favorite spring dishes, but when I cooked that large amount of spinach, it characteristically wilted down to a depressingly small amount of food. So, I scavenged the fridge and freezer for more veggies to add to it. I came up with a bag of frozen cauliflower and a Tupperware bowl of leftover cabbage and carrot mixture from St. Patrick’s Day last week. Also, I was the fortunate possessor of a hunk of French Comte cheese, so I was in business. Vegetable gratins are a valuable dish for the cook to have in his or her repertoire because they taste delicious, get less-loved veggies into the bodies of family members, and use up all manner of kitchen extras.

Now get up and go cook something good.

This is my veggie gratin, still naked of buttered breadcrumbs and unbaked. It’ll look better when it comes out of the oven. Trust me.

Vegetable Gratin

serves about six diners

about 4 c. cooked vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, chard, cabbage, turnips, butternut squash, onion – or any combo that sounds good)
2 T. butter or margarine
2 T. flour
1 c. heavy or light cream or half and half
salt and pepper to taste
pinch nutmeg
about 1 c. shredded cheese (Swiss, Gruyere, cheddar, or a smaller amt. of Parmesan)
stale bread, cut or torn into small pieces, about 1 c.
a little melted butter for tossing with the bread crumbs, about 1 T.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees if you are completing the recipe now. Put the cooked vegetables into a large bowl and set aside. If using spinach, chard, or cabbage, make sure it is very well drained. Set aside.

Melt the 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour until the mixture is completely smooth, reaching all over the pan with a heat-proof spatula spoon or whisk. Allow the mixture to become bubbly while you stir constantly. Pour in the cream and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Stir in the seasonings. Taste. It should be perhaps a little more salty than you prefer, especially if the vegetables are unsalted. Congratulations, you have made a béchamel sauce. If you stir the cheese into the sauce off heat until it is melted, you will have made a Mornay sauce. Now don’t you feel clever?

Add the béchamel sauce to the bowl of vegetables. Stir in the cheese. Mix everything gently but thoroughly. Turn into a greased casserole. If serving later, cover the dish and refrigerate until about 45 minutes before serving time.

Mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle them on top of the vegetable mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until all is golden brown and bubbling. Let stand for five minutes before serving.

A spoonful of the leftovers will be delicious as a filling in your morning omelet.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted March 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Amen!

  2. LissySue
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    yum! I could go for some of that right about now!

    Btw, Mrs. B said I could come over to their house and stay with Jesse during banquet. I thought maybe we would cook something up. Any ideas other than the boring old brownies for 12 and 19 yr old cooks?

  3. Posted March 30, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    We are grateful daily for our Lord’s sacrifice.

    The recipe sounds great!

  • Your comment is the best part of this blog! Share what’s on your mind here.

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