I'm still sticking to asparagus-centric recipes. But today’s post is also a chance for me to proudly introduce a new addition to my kitchen, which I had been dreaming about for quite some time: mini Dutch ovens, or mini casseroles.
I’ve already mentioned my fondness for braised dishes and my belief that Dutch ovens are one of the most wonderful inventions ever. The one I own is huge, which is the way I like it: when I make stew in the winter, I usually make enough to last two or three days. People often say that braised dishes taste better every time you re-heat them, and it is completely true: the more time the flavours have time to hang out together, the better they get along with each other.
However, sometimes you don’t want a mountain of leftovers. Sometimes, you don’t want to bring one huge pot to the table. Sometimes, you want small, pretty, individual portions.
And that’s when you break out the mini casseroles.
In theory, they are literally a miniature version of regular Dutch ovens; but to be honest, they are not a substitute for the bigger version, in that you can’t really use them for the same things. For instance, they are not ideal for braising or simmering red meat: most recipes I’ve come across using these mini casseroles recommend pre-cooking beef and pork before adding them to the pot.
What the mini Dutch ovens are good for, however, are vegetables, chicken, and seafood dishes. Not to mention baked eggs, which you can season to your liking, with cream, ham, cheese, and so forth (there’s a three-cheese and walnut version that I’m very curious about). And they make for a great presentation – you know, in more skillful hands than mine.
Of course, you could probably use medium ramekins for most of the recipes involving mini casseroles; perhaps not for the dishes that have to spend a lot of time in the oven, but the quicker ones (such as the one I’m presenting today) shouldn’t suffer from the substitution. But what can I say? I have a Dutch oven fetish. And, since I’m also partial to small, cutesy things, it was inevitable that I would fall for these little pots.
The very first thing I made using my new toys were these Shrimp and Asparagus Casseroles. I had a little trouble estimating the cooking time, which ended up being rather longer than the recipe indicated. You can see in the picture that the cheese topping wasn’t properly melted yet (and I didn’t have time to snap another shot when it was ready for real). This is a fairly rich dish, involving cream and parmesan, and probably more appropriate for early spring. But it was definitely satisfying and tasty – and I’m not just saying that because I’ll eat anything in a mini casserole!
For some people, miniatures are simply irrestistible. I am one of those people.
Shrimp and Asparagus Mini Casseroles
Slightly modified from José Maréchal’s Petites Cocottes
1 bunch of green asparagus
8 large shrimp, deveined, with the tail still attached
360ml (3/4 cup) bread crumbs
360ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream (or substitute half the cream with milk)
120ml (1/4 cup) parmesan shavings
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).
Trim the asparagus by removing the thick stems, and cut the remaining tips into 3,5 cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces. Separate the spears from the stems. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the asparagus stems for about 3 minutes. Add the spears and cook for another minute. Drain, run under cold water, and pat dry.
Separate the asparagus spears from the stems, once again. Combine the stems with the cream and puree with a hand mixer, or in a small blender. Salt and pepper to taste. Divide this mixture among two mini casseroles or medium ramekins.
Gently roll the shrimp and asparagus spears into the bread crumbs, so as to cover them. Arrange them into the casseroles, with the shrimp tails and asparagus spears pointing up. Cover with parmesan shavings. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until the shrimp is cooked, the parmesan is fully melted, and the cream is heated through.