At the cusp of each new season, I'm so happy to shift cooking gears that I tend to get carried away. Fresh asparagus? Let's have it for every dinner. Berries in all their glory? Breakfast and dessert each day. At some point I'll tire of these flavors, too, but for now, I want to indulge in the sheer relief that color -- green! red! blue! -- brings to the table.
With Easter a few days away, Mother's Day just down the road and all those bridal and baby showers that pop up in the spring, I have entertaining on my mind.
Whatever the season, my mantra for cooking for company is "keep it simple." The only rules I consider are to limit the menu to a single showy item and to make sure only one dish needs last-minute attention. As the cook, I want to enjoy my guests at the table and not be left behind at the stove.
For this spring menu, the roulade (pronounced rou-LAHD) shines as the star, with its lovely swirl of egg, cheese and vegetables served in slices. Its simple elegance is perfect for a brunch. Months ago I stumbled onto the roulade in a cookbook and, though I vowed to use it for a spring menu, I never did remember where I first saw it. I was smitten immediately by its look and the notion of a rolled up egg.
Like a jellyroll, the roulade batter is poured into a pan with edges. Once baked, a filling is spread atop the egg surface, which has become nearly as firm as a crêpe, and then it's carefully rolled up. The filling can be anything, much as you choose what goes into a frittata or omelet: Diced ham with cheese. Smoked salmon and capers. Black beans and roasted peppers. Spinach and mushrooms.
Although you can (and should) prepare the filling in advance, the dish does require attention from the cook right before it is served. That's not my preferred method of entertaining, but I've made the dish enough times (including for my mother's 80th birthday, whereit was a big hit) that it doesn't bother me to work on it at the last minute. However, if you're making the roulade for the first time and have guests you want to impress, try giving the recipe a run-through in advance, on your own timetable.
Caution for the cook: Expect a bit of a mess. You'll go through quite a few dishes in the prep of the roulade, as you prepare a roux, whip egg whites and cook the filling. But repeat after me: It's worth the effort. I practiced making the recipe for one guest, who later sent me a text message: "I can't stop thinking about the egg dish. When can I have it again?"
With the more difficult course under your belt, the rest of the spring menu is a breeze.
Roasted asparagus: Enjoy its short season. Asparagus is a flexible companion for any meal and needs little attention from the cook, which makes it perfect for company. Toss the asparagus with olive oil and add some lemon zest for a bright flavor. Then roast it for a short time at a high temperature, or a longer time at a lower temperature, depending on what else is in the oven. Or make the asparagus in advance and serve it at room temperature.
Ham: At many spring gatherings, ham is the centerpiece. But if there's a crowd at the table, the oven tends to be crowded, too. While trying to figure out a way to handle the traditional meat, given the need to bake the roulade, I stumbled across advice to use a slow cooker to heat ham. (Think Crockpot.) Of course! Why didn't I think of that earlier? The slow cooker is the perfect heating vehicle. Sprinkle some brown sugar on the meat and you're set to go with a simple glaze.
Too few at your table to cook a hunk of ham? Then cut up slices to fit in your skillet, sprinkle brown sugar on top and heat them on the stovetop. Fabulous. Want other glaze suggestions? Check out the options on this page.
Pound cake with blueberry sauce: I look for a dessert that can be made in advance. Pound cake, which can be refrigerated for days, is the perfect choice for busy cooks. Add a simple blueberry sauce, also made in advance, and you are set for a fine finish for your spring menu. If your preference leans toward a strawberry sauce, make that instead. Improvise! You're the cook. Recipes shouldn't be carved in stone.
This meal is an easy one to dress up to fit your crowd or suit your comfort level in the kitchen. Want to fill out the menu a bit more? Start with a mimosa -- half orange juice, half sparkling wine. Add a light green salad (spring greens and your favorite salad dressing), if you prefer, or some dinner rolls.
Or keep it simple. That's what I plan to do.
Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean is the author of "Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus."