Well Dined


Spring Recipes

Ah, spring - new beginnings, new growth, and the start of peak veggie season. I am a vegetable fan, but I despise the plain steam treatment, so I am always looking for new ways to incorporate vegetables into fun dishes. Zucchini and spinach are two of my favorites because they are incredibly versatile and easy to add to any dish. One of my favorite spring dishes combines them with pasta and a Gruyere sauce for a creamy, cheesy, and flavorful veggie casserole. You can add in shredded or diced cooked chicken for more protein, if you wish.

Start with fresh, medium sized zucchini - they have fewer seeds and more flavor than larger ones. Also look for vibrant skin - younger, fresher zucchini will have a more tender skin that is easier to eat. Leave the skin on - it has a lot of nutrients!

A food processor makes shredding so much easier.

Gruyere - my favorite cheese to pair with vegetables. Buying a block and shredding it yourself gives you more flavor than buying it pre-shredded.

Saute shallots and zucchini together to develop flavor.

Create the base for for your sauce by whisking together a roux, whole milk, thyme, bay leaves, lemon zest, cayenne, and nutmeg.

Add cooked pasta shells, Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, egg yolks, and the cooked zucchini to the sauce.

Add in the spinach.

Spoon into a baking dish and top with more Gruyere and Parmesan.

Bake until the cheese is brown and bubbly on top.

Serve with a fresh salad. Enjoy!

Spring Shells and Cheese
adapted from The Food Network
Time: 1.5 hrs Serves: 6-8

2 lb medium zucchini
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups whole milk
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 lb medium pasta shells
4 shallots, minced
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
4 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 oz baby spinach

Grate or shred the zucchini (do not peel) into a colander. Toss with 1 tablespoon salt, then place in the sink to drain for about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the excess liquid.

Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, nutmeg, cayenne, 2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the raw flour smell cooks out, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, about a cup at a time. Then add the thyme, bay leaves, and lemon zest and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened slightly, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain into a bowl, discarding the herbs.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini mixture to the pasta along with the egg yolks and all but 3 tablespoons of both cheeses. Stir to combine, then add the spinach.

Transfer the mixture to a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Bake until browned on top and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Another easy way to incorporate zucchini into a family friendly dish is to bake it with flour, cheese, eggs in a pie dish. This rich, dense, savory pie is sure to be a hit. The original recipe called for Provolone cheese - you can certainly use that, or Mozzarella, but I prefer Gruyere. I also like to add more basil than originally called for.

Zucchini Pie
adapted from Real Simple
Time: 1.5 hrs Serves: 6

3 cups grated zucchini (about 1.5 lbs)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tbsp grated Parmesan
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, reserving 1 tbsp of the Parmesan. Spoon the zucchini mixture into a greased pie plate. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown, sprinkle with the reserved Parmesan. Cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

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