As side dishes go, it’s hard to go wrong simply sautéing seasonal vegetables in a skillet with olive oil, an allium such as garlic, onion or shallot, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
I was about to do just that with some cauliflower, asparagus and peas in my refrigerator that needed to be cooked, but the thought of it just wasn’t moving me. I wanted something more unctuous: a side that was richer, more exciting and more deeply flavorful to elevate the basic roast chicken I was planning to serve alongside it.
The answer came in the form of a creamy Parmesan sauce, made right in the skillet with the vegetables, which ultimately envelops them in rich, cheesy
goodness. And it does so in a more healthful way with thickened low-fat milk instead of cream, and a relatively modest amount of flavor-packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Using riced cauliflower (which you can obtain by grating the florets on the large-holed side of a box grater – or by purchasing it already riced) allows the vegetable to meld with the white sauce and provide an almost risotto-like texture to the dish. Sweet peas and chopped asparagus add flecks of spring green, and a sprinkling of cheese treated to a minute or two under the broiler browns the top of the bubbling mixture. It all makes for a nice presentation.
I served mine right in the skillet on the table (with a towel wrapped around the hot handle). It was exactly the kind of luxe dish I had hoped for as a partner for the chicken. It is so substantial, it would also work well in larger portions as a vegetarian main course.
CREAMY PARMESAN SPRING VEGETABLE SKILLET
2 servings main-course servings or 4 side-dish servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium to large shallot, chopped ( 1/3 cup)
4 ounces cauliflower rice (1 cup)
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
½ bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup low-fat milk (1 percent)
1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese ( 1/3 cup)
Position an oven rack 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler.
Heat the oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or other nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the shallot. Cook for 2 minutes, until softened, then stir in the cauliflower rice, peas, asparagus, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat evenly.
Add the milk and stir until it comes to a gentle boil, then stir in half the cheese. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are firm-tender and the sauce has thickened. Turn off the heat.
Scatter the surface of the mixture with the remaining cheese. Transfer to the oven and broil for a minute or two, until lightly browned on top. Serve warm.
PER SERVING (based on 2): 290 calories, 18 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar