I like a party with a theme. It helps me to gather my thoughts and to organize food, decor, and whatever else needs doing. Like my Oscars party – that’s pretty specific, so you’ve got a starting point for any ideas on what to do and prepare. Lucky for me, my friends are the same way, so when my friend L offered to host a potluck dinner party, she also told us that it was Italian food, and so everyone was able to prepare based on that. (This is something everyone should keep in mind for potlucks – it’s hard enough to know what to bring period, so giving a general theme helps narrow down the realm of options) Normally I’m totally a dessert-type person, but Italian desserts scare me a little – so much cream and pastry and fluffiness that it’s hard to know where to stop. And since I also like to pretend that I’m a healthy cook (HA!), I volunteered to bring a side dish…something with vegetables.
And that, friends, is when I started Googling. Because I cannot really name a whole lot of side dishes that are vegetables that a) are Italian and b) I would want to eat (picky me doesn’t like things like eggplant). But in the course of my search, I stumbled across this recipe and went…huh – I can do that! And I like all the veggies in there! And it’s not too heavy on the cheese and cream, and would be a decent side. So I made it. While I am pretty sure it wasn’t the star of the show, it was also a really good side. The kind of thing you can spoon a bit on top of your other dishes and gives it another layer of flavor.
Amusingly, L’s six-year-old daughter N only picked at hers, and when I asked what she thought and if she might eat any more, she pushed at her fork and said, “I don’t really care for it.” HA! Good on you kid – if you’re going to dislike something, say it in the most adult way possible, and you’ll get your Aunt Maggie to laugh instead of insist that you finish your veggies. But for the rest of you…this is a yummy option that will be easy to eat. So yummy…I made it again a few weeks later for Easter dinner with the family, where it went over much better since all the attendees were adults.
Cauliflower and Broccoli Flan with Spinach Bechamel
Yield: 6 large servings
2 1/2 cups cauliflower florets
2 1/2 cups broccoli florets
2 6-ounce bags baby spinach leaves
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup whole milk
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook cauliflower and broccoli in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid. Transfer vegetables to large bowl. Cool.
Rinse spinach, then toss in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just wilted. Drain and cool. Squeeze spinach dry; finely chop.
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and reserved 2/3 cup vegetable cooking liquid. Whisk constantly over medium heat until sauce thickens and boils, about 3 minutes. Stir in spinach and cheese.
Using fingers, coarsely crumble cauliflower and broccoli in bowl. Add spinach béchamel sauce; stir to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Butter 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Spread vegetable mixture in prepared dish. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake flan until puffed and heated through, about 25 minutes if at room temperature and 35 minutes if chilled. Serve hot.