A Casserole for Every Season

Baked Salmon and Spring Vegetables 1

It’s a big week for me. I am putting the finishing touches on my latest book, Sunday Casseroles! Over the past year, I have spent hours with a talented team of assistants poring over ideas for the recipes in this collection. I wanted to update many classic  casseroles (think mac and cheese with a hint of crème fraîche), and invent enticing new ones.

 Heavily salted canned soups called for in the casseroles of yesteryear were banished, and replaced with easily made sauces. Fresh vegetables appear in countless dishes, and instead of pouring bread crumbs from a box, I opted for quickly toasting homemade ones in a skillet.

 The inspiration for these all-in-one dishes came from many sources. Some, like New Orleans Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya, reflect my Southern roots, while others, such as Cassoulet “Rapide” and Provençal Daube de Boeuf, are redolent of my stays in France. Old favorites got facelifts: spicy chili cooked under a cornbread crust and a casserole of creamed chicken, apples, and walnuts topped with cheddar biscuits are two examples.New dishes include a wild mushroom lasagna as well as crab-stuffed pasta shells napped with tomato-orange sauce.

 There’s a casserole for every season, and for every holiday, including Easter. To celebrate the completion of Sunday Casseroles here’s one that would be perfect to offer this coming Sunday.  and try these lemon pudding cakes for dessert!

 Salmon Baked with Spring Vegetables and Fresh Herbs

 Everything about this dish is fresh—the fish, the herbs, the trinity of vegetables—all of which blend beautifully with a mustard-scented white sauce. You can prepare this casserole several hours ahead and will need only to place it in the oven for a few minutes at serving time. Add a watercress salad tossed in a citrus dressing as a side.

 Bread Crumb Topping
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup/45 g fresh bread crumbs (see cooking tip)
3/4 tsp grated lemon zest

White Sauce
2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for the baking dish
2 tbsp flour
2 cups/480 ml whole milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped mint

Salmon and Vegetables
1 lb/455 g salmon fillet, skin removed and cut about 3/4-in/2-cm thick in the center section (see market note)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 medium cucumbers, about 12 oz/340 g
1 1/2 cups/135 g sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and peas halved on the diagonal
1/2 cup/72 g peas, fresh or frozen ones, defrosted
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped mint

1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C/gas 6. Butter a 2-qt/2-L shallow baking dish.

2. Heat the olive oil until hot in a medium, heavy frying pan set over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, tossing constantly, until golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. In a small bowl, toss the bread crumbs with the lemon zest and set aside. (Crumbs can be prepared 1 hour ahead; cover and leave at room temperature.)

3. For the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk; cook, whisking, until mixture thickens, for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper, plus 1 tbsp each of dill and mint. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes or longer.

4. For the salmon, cut the fillet into 1-in/2.5-cm chunks and place them in the prepared casserole. Toss them with the lemon juice and zest.

5. Peel the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut halves crosswise into 1/2-in/12-mm- thick slices.

6. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add the cucumber and sugar snap peas, plus the peas if they are fresh. Cook 1 minute only, just to set the color, then drain the vegetables in a colander. Place under cold running water until vegetables are cool. Pat them dry, then scatter them among the salmon cubes. Sprinkle the fish and vegetables with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp each dill and mint, and then toss gently to mix.

7. Pour the cooled sauce over the fish and vegetables and spread evenly. (Casserole can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

8. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the casserole. Bake until the salmon is cooked through when pierced with a sharp knife and vegetables are crisp tender for 12 to 14 minutes.

9. Remove the casserole from the oven.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 5

 

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