You won't be surprised to hear that I fell for Dave when he cooked dinner for me. After all, what young woman wouldn't love a man who cooked for her?
It was at his place, a tiny converted outbuilding, maybe even a garage, behind a house in The Dalles. We were both working at the local paper, he as a writer/photographer in his first real newspaper job out of J-school, me in the ad department doing paste-up while I lived with my parents, trying to earn enough money to go back to school and finish my degree.
When I arrived the lights were dimmed, the table was set and wine was poured. But forget any formal images that conjures. The table was a low coffee table and we sat on the floor leaning against the paisley-embossed blue and green plastic couch as we sipped our wine. The plates were plastic, the silverware mix-and-match from Goodwill.
But as far as I was concerned it was all candlelight, gleaming silver and Limoges. And when he brought out our plates, it wasn't filet mignon seared to medium-rare perfection with tiny roasted potatoes bathed in butter that made me melt. I fell for the broccoli he'd lovingly steamed and laid over a mound of brown rice, then smothered in a tuna, cheese and cream of mushroom soup sauce, a dish he called "Broccoli Surprise."
Needless to say, I was in love. We made that dish often in our early days, but it'd been years since we'd had it. Then I saw some spring raab at the farmers' market and decided it was time to revive the dish that wooed and won me. I pulled out a package of roasted wild mushrooms from the freezer, a tin of Oregon albacore from the pantry and we were back in business.
Though now the crystal's from Ikea and the plates still aren't Limoges, the candlelight sparkles in Dave's eyes just like it did back then. And, like many things in a long marriage, the Surprise is that much better.
Broccoli Surprise Revisited
2 c. water
1 c. white, long-grain rice
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
4 Tbp. flour
2 c. milk
2 c. sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 lb. wild mushrooms, roasted or sautéed
1 6-oz. can Oregon albacore canned in its juice (drain if it's in oil or water)
1 lb. broccoli raab or rapini
Bring water to a boil, add rice and cook.
While rice cooks, melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in flour. Return to heat and cook until flour loses raw taste, approx. 1-2 min. Add milk, stirring while adding to prevent lumps. When it thickens, stir in cheese a handful at a time and allow to melt. Stir in cooked mushrooms and tuna with its juice. Cover and keep warm.
Bring 1/4" deep water to boil in medium saucepan. Add trimmed stalks of raab, lower heat, cover and steam till stalks are tender. On plate or pasta bowl, mound rice, lay stalks of raab over the top and cover with sauce.
See Touching Up My Roots, Part One, where I roast wild mushrooms and revisit the tuna casserole of my youth.