Friday, March 22, 2013

Egg Gratin

Last year's post: Rustic Egg Tart

This recipe would be great for Easter or Mother's Day brunch. It's different from typical egg dishes - omelets, frittatas, scrambled eggs, stratas or souffles  - because it's made with hard-boiled eggs, peas and green onions that are baked in a delicious cheese sauce. It can be assembled in advance so all you have to do is bake it before serving, which makes it great for entertaining. It's also perfect for an easy but impressive dinner any night of the week.

I used to make a similar version fairly often while in college because it was cheap and good, cheap being the most important of the two virtues at the time. That version called for some sort of cream soup but I try to avoid canned soups now due to their additives and high sodium levels, plus it's easy to make the sauce from scratch.  Have you looked at the ingredient list on a can of soup lately?

fun at the grocery store
Let's talk about eggs for a minute. Eggs have a number of good qualities and one drawback. The drawback is that they're fairly high in cholesterol so you don't want to eat them every day, but in my opinion that's outweighed by the good qualities. Eggs are all-natural and packed with a number of nutrients. One egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals in varying amounts, high-quality protein, unsaturated fats and antioxidants, all for 70 calories. Eggs' nutrients can help you with weight management, muscle strength, eye health, brain function and having a healthy pregnancy. Particularly important for aiding healthy brain function and pregnancy is choline (pronounced KOH-leen), which is amply present in eggs. (Can you tell I've been doing research on the egg council website?)  This recipe calls for six eggs and feeds 4-5 people, so you're only consuming a little more than one egg per serving.

Is this considered a vegetarian meal?  Not to get overly detailed, but most people who describe themselves as vegetarians are actually lacto-ovo vegetarians if they eat eggs and dairy products. "Flexitarians" is a new term that describes people who eat a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat.  Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat meat of any kind and also do not eat eggs, dairy products, or processed foods containing those or other animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin.  Undoubtedly that was way more than you really wanted to know, but basically I consider this a vegetarian meal.  Unless, of course, you add a garnish of some crispy bacon.  Umm, bacon.  (If you have vegetarian friends it would probably be a good idea to ask if they eat eggs before serving this dish.)

You could substitute spinach for the peas in the recipe, but my old version had peas so I like them for sentimental reasons. You could also substitute cheddar or swiss cheese for the Gruyere, and use English muffins or French bread instead of Italian bread - just be sure whatever bread you use is toasted or grilled until crisp to provide textural contrast to the creamy eggs.

Obviously the garnish is optional but I thought it made the plate look more springtime-ish and the daikon sprouts add a fresh taste with just the barest hint of radish spiciness.  Or there's always bacon. (If you're feeling wild and crazy you could even fry up some chorizo.)

There's a world of opinions regarding how to hard-boil eggs, the two issues being how to avoid a green ring around the yolk and how to make sure the shell is easy to remove.  All I can tell you is that I cook eggs the way my mother taught me and I've never had green rings and very rarely have issues with the shells.  Here's how: place the eggs in a small saucepan and just barely cover them with tap water.

Bring to a boil uncovered, then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Stick the saucepan in the sink and run cold water on the eggs for a couple of minutes to cool them down and stop the cooking process.  Done.

If you're planning to serve this for guests I would encourage you to buy a gratin dish because it looks so pretty.  Basically they're shallow baking dishes, usually oval in shape.  This dish is approximately 7.5" by 12" (not counting the handles) and the recipe fit perfectly.  If you plan to double the recipe larger gratin dishes are readily available.  Of course any regular baking dish will work but won't have quite the same wow factor.

printable recipe

Egg Gratin
Serves 4-5

6 hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk (whole or 2%)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ¼ cups shredded cheese (Gruyere, cheddar or swiss)
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)
daikon sprouts (optional)
crumbled cooked bacon (optional)
grilled or toasted Italian bread, French bread, or English muffins

Preheat the oven to 450d.

Grease a 6-cup (1.5L) gratin or casserole dish.  Slice the eggs crosswise into 5-6 pieces each and arrange in the dish. 

Reserving a few green onions for garnish, sprinkle the remaining green onions and the peas over the eggs.

 In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for about 90 seconds, without browning.  Gradually whisk in milk, then add ½ teaspoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.  Continue whisking and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in 1 cup of the cheese until melted.  Taste for seasoning and add the additional salt if needed.

 Pour the sauce evenly over the eggs, peas and onions to cover all.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  

Bake on the oven’s center rack until bubbly and very slightly browned, about 25 minutes.  Turn the oven to broil and allow the dish to brown to your liking while watching closely, approximately 30-60 seconds.

Remove and garnish with paprika and the remaining green onions.

 Serve over grilled or toasted bread, garnished with daikon sprouts and/or bacon (optional).

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