I kind of backed into this recipe. You see, it’s fiddlehead season. If you’re not familiar with fiddleheads, they are the tender tips of emerging ferns, still tightly coiled. They’re available for a very short time each spring. They taste a bit like asparagus, with a nice crunch.
The thing is, there’s not much you can do with them, if you want to enjoy their delicacy and freshness: simply saute/steam them with a little butter.
So, while contemplating my pound of fresh fiddleheads, I tried to come up with a complementary recipe for something, and I landed on gougère. That’s a fancy word for a pastry made of pâte à choux. Not any clearer? Think cream puff dough. I was first introduced to gougère by Julia Child, many years ago. Most often they are made by the spoonful, which produces a hollow crispy pastry that you can fill with either a sweet or savory filling. The dough is easy and fun to make.
But I wanted a single dish, not a fiddly (ha, a pun) bunch of little things. So I had to go hunting, and found one that was kinda, sorta what I wanted, so I started fine-tuning it. And voila! Here is my companion dish to the fiddleheads!
Gougère with mushrooms and ham
Pâte à Choux:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1 cup flour
Pinch each of salt and pepper
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/8 lb sharp Cheddar cheese, diced (about 1/4 inch cubes)
Mix the flour, salt and pepper together. Heat the water and butter in a large saucepan until the butter melts.
Bring the liquid to a boil. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir vigorously (most sources suggest a sturdy wooden spoon for this) until it comes together in an elastic ball. This should take about a minute.
Allow the mixture to cool for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with that wooden spoon after each one.
Stir in the diced cheese.
Filling: (actually I made the filling first, because it can sit while you make the dough)
4 Tblsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1-1/2 Tblsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly grated pepper
1 cup chicken broth, heated
6 ounces cooked ham, chopped
1 Tblsp Cheddar cheese, shredded
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Saute the onion over low-medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour, salt and pepper and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the ham. Taste for seasoning.
Butter a 10- or 11-inch ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish. Spoon the pâte à choux in a ring around the edge, leaving a hole in the center.
Spoon the filling into the center. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the whole thing.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the gougère is crisp and puffy and the filling is bubbling.
Serve at once, cut into wedges (it kind of goes splat once you cut into it, but it tastes good!. Along with your fiddleheads!
At last! Privy to the Dead, available everywhere! You can finally find out what's in that hole in the basement of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society. (Don't worry, it won't turn your stomach.)