As side dishes go, it's hard to go wrong simply sauteing 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
Two main-course servings or four side-dish servings
This one-skillet dish of sauteed spring vegetables in a Parmesan sauce has a risotto-like texture. Although big on flavor and luxe texture, the sauce is made healthfully with thickened low-fat milk instead of cream. And the dish takes about 20 minutes to make.
Serve this as a side with grilled or roasted chicken, or in a larger portion as a vegetarian main.
Cauliflower "rice" is available in the refrigerated produce section of many supermarkets. To make your own, grate the tops of cauliflower florets on the large-holed side of a box grater.
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 medium to large shallot, chopped (1/3 cup)
• 4 ounces cauliflower rice (1 cup; see headnote)
• 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
• 1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1/4 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 two minutes, until softened, then stir in the cauliflower rice, peas, asparagus, salt and pepper. Cook for two 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 three 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.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on two servings): 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.
Ellie Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author who hosts public television’s “Ellie’s Real Good Food.” She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.