An easy menu for Easter should leave plenty of time for an egg hunt


Just right for spring: salmon, asparagus

Sunday Gourmet

March 28, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

After our son grew up and moved away from home, my husband and I celebrated Easter quietly for several years. There were no children to surprise with Easter baskets, no little ones to engage in an egg hunt. Often there were only two of us at the table.

That all changed when our son married and started a family of his own. Last year, he invited us to Boston -- a short drive from our small New England town -- to celebrate Easter with his wife and their new baby girl. Yours truly, who takes grandparenting seriously, devoted a morning to assembling an Easter basket and combed countless toy stores in search of a fuzzy bunny for our granddaughter. But when I offered to help prepare Easter lunch, our son, a talented amateur cook, insisted that he plan the meal.

This year, I suggested that our Boston crew drive to our house for Easter. I'm planning an easy menu for this day when so many attend church services before gathering at the table. Salmon and asparagus, two harbingers of spring, are to be the centerpiece and will be conveniently roasted together, although on two separate baking sheets. The asparagus will need 6 to 8 minutes in the oven to become tender and lightly charred, while the salmon will require a few minutes more. The coral-hued fillets and the tender, sleek spears will be accompanied by a cucumber and watercress salad and a gratin of red skin potatoes.

A beurre blanc sauce (French for white butter sauce) will make an indulgent garnish to use sparingly on the fillets. To make it, chopped shallots are simmered in white wine until the liquid has evaporated, then butter is whisked in, a little at a time, until the sauce becomes creamy and opaque. The sauce can be made an hour in advance and kept warm in a skillet of warm water. At serving time, all that is necessary is to stir in some fresh dill. That should leave just enough time for Easter baskets and an egg hunt.

Roasted Salmon and Asparagus

Serves 6

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (1 medium shallot)

1/3 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus 6 dill sprigs for garnish

kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for oiling baking sheets

6 salmon fillets, each about 6 to 7 ounces, with skin (see note)

freshly ground black pepper

3 teaspoons white wine vinegar

2 pounds medium asparagus, tough bases cut off and discarded

To make the sauce, halve the stick of butter lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/2 -inch pieces. Set butter aside. Place shallot and wine in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Cook, watching carefully, until almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then gradually whisk in butter, one to two pieces at a time. Sauce will thicken and become creamy and smooth. Remove from heat and place pan with sauce in a skillet of warm (not hot) water to keep warm. Season sauce with salt to taste.

(Sauce can be prepared an hour in advance. If it needs reheating, place skillet of water containing saucepan over low heat and whisk sauce in saucepan until just warm.)

Arrange two oven racks, one at lower and the other at center position.

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and oil each generously with olive oil. Place fillets, skin side down, on one sheet and season generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon vinegar over each fillet. Spread asparagus in a single layer in the other baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then toss to make sure the spears are coated with oil. Sprinkle asparagus with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Roast in preheated 450-degree oven, with the asparagus pan on the center rack and salmon pan on the lower rack. Roast asparagus until tender when pierced with a knife and slightly charred, 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Roast salmon until flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pierced with a knife, 10 to 12 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cover with foil.

Stir fresh dill into the warm beurre blanc sauce. Arrange a salmon fillet and a bundle of asparagus spears as a garnish on each of 6 dinner plates. Drizzle a heaping tablespoon of sauce over each fillet and garnish with a dill sprig. Serve immediately.

Note: To check fillets for bones, run your fingers over the surface of the salmon and remove any protruding bones with a pair of tweezers.

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