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Chat Leftovers: A vegetarian at the Easter table

Recipe Included

I'll give you three great reasons why you should plan to be on hand this afternoon for our Free Range chat: 1. Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, who write in today's paper about fresh ham, will be joining us. These guys know just about everything there is to know about the hindquarters of a pig. 2. Paula Whyman will be another guest chatter. She wrote today about the food sensitivities that lend a lot of angst to her dining-out experiences. 3. The Food section experts will be there, as usual, to help answer your culinary questions.

Questions like this one, a leftover from last week's lively hour:

I’m hosting Easter dinner again this year: three kids and 10 adults, one a vegetarian. Those who eat meat will be served ham as their main dish. What is a vegetarian main dish I can try a few times and then serve for my vegetarian Easter guest? I want something springlike and ideally something that others would like as a side.

When I think of spring food, right away I think of asparagus. Here's a great dish that's packed with asparagus and another sign of spring: morels. These highly prized mushrooms will begin showing up in the wild fairly soon and might already have arrived at your local farmer's market. If not, you can use chanterelles. Morels are expensive, but you want something with a wow factor for Easter, right? And especially something that won't make the lone vegetarian feel like a second-class guest.

(You mentioned giving the recipe a couple of practice runs; a good idea, but the price of morels being what it is, you will want to use some other variety for practicing.)

-- Jane Touzalin

Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding

Green garlic (immature garlic whose leaves are still green) is simmered with the milk for flavor. Dried mushrooms will work for this dish as well.

6 generous main-course servings

1 head green garlic, coarsely chopped (may substitute 8-10 cloves regular garlic)
3 cups whole or low-fat milk
1-pound loaf firm white or multigrain bread, cut into thick slices (preferably stale)
Sea salt
1 to 2 pounds peeled asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/3-inch pieces and soaked in cold water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely diced (2 to 3 tablespoons)
1/2 to 1 pound morel or chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon or marjoram leaves
2 cups freshly grated Fontina or Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-by-12-inch baking or gratin dish.

Combine the garlic and milk in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then remove from the heat and set aside to steep (5 to 8 minutes).

If the bread is not stale, lay it on a large baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until crisp (but not hard, or the pudding will be mushy). Break the bread into chunks and put it in a large dish. Pour the milk through a strainer over the bread (discarding the garlic) and let it sit while you prepare the vegetables, turning the bread occasionally so that it soaks up as much of the liquid as possible.

Fill a large skillet 2/3 of the way with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lightly salt the water and add the asparagus pieces; cook for about 3 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Melt half of the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the mushrooms. Increase the heat to high and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the mushrooms brown in places and exude their liquid. Remove from the heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the parsley, tarragon or marjoram, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Add the soaked bread and any liquid left in the dish, the asparagus-mushroom mixture and its juices, and 2/3 of the cheese, mixing well. Pour into the prepared baking or gratin dish and use a spatula to even it out. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until puffed and golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Adapted from Deborah Madison's "Local Flavors" (Broadway Books, 2002).

By Jane Touzalin  |  March 31, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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