Dinners on Walnut Street pose a special, satisfying challenge. I'm a vegetarian, she's iffy on cheese. I need protein, she hates tofu. I will cook meat as long as I don't have to cut it, look at it or smell it.
So we eat a lot of vegetables.
I am a goddess of stir fries. I have sauteed so many vegetables with so much garlic. My cast iron wok is old and tired. I boil white rice, black rice, green rice, short grain, long grain, couscous, quinoa, freekeh, wheat berries, kasha, farrow. There are infinite combinations of grains and greens, and they are all somewhat boring.
I crave interesting and well-rounded dishes that can stand alone, because lord knows I don't have time for side dishes (when you're a vegetarian, everything is a side dish!). In the summer, I love grain and bean salads, but crunchy red onions are incongruous with these blustery evenings. I want something warm, oozing and piled high with woodsy carbohydrates. The combination of honeyed wheat bread, ricotta cheese and saffron made this casserole subtly sweet and spicy, indulgent, but no surprises.
Recipes that fill my apartment with the smell of earth and buttered bread are in high demand this season. Fall 2009 has been one of startling and disturbing surprises, where the universe has taken my need for measured, gradual transition and blown big, spity raspberries all over it. Amid the sudden change of weather, the sudden death of my grandfather, a sudden car accident and a host of other "suddens", I am finding my self gratefully reminded that my various frets and frowns are largely useless given the frailty of life, and through it all, I'm desperately craving casseroles.
I'm not sure if gratin is truly a casserole, but I'm calling it that because I feel like gratin deserves to be served in something that is flawless, elegant and porcelain, and not my mom's ancient pyrex pan flecked with baked-on remnants of lasagna. This dish was cooked and served in the latter, and is, as such, a casserole.
white bean asparagus gratin with saffron
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups canned or cooked white beans (of your choice)
2 cloves garlic, mashed
several threads saffron
several dollops ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
4 slices honey wheat bread
Preheat oven to 350. Soak saffron in hot water for 20-30 minutes. Saute half of the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add in chopped asparagus, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in beans and set aside. Toast 4 slices of bread and crumble in to bread crumbs. Saute the other half of the onion in a good amount of butter, then add bread crumbs. Place bean and asparagus mixture in a buttered baking dish and top with soaked saffron threads. Nestle small amounts of ricotta in the mixture and top with bread crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes, or until bread is brown and crusty.