Prickly Pear Casserole

4 cups young prickly pear pads, sliced into 1-inch long, 1/4-inch wide sections
5 tablespoons butter, divided
salt, to taste
1/4 cup onion
2 cups milk
2 cups diced wild mushrooms
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pepper, to taste
1 1/3 cup French fried onions

red pepper flakes

Remove thorns and needles from pads, then place the pads in ice water for 15 minutes; remove from water and slice pads. Sauté in 2 tablespoons of butter with a dash of salt until tender; set aside.

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Sauté the onions, puree them with the milk, add the mushrooms, then scald in a double-boiler. Lightly brown the cornstarch in 3 tablespoons of butter, stirring the whole time and occasionally removing from heat to avoid burning it. Add salt and pepper to the cornstarch “roux,” then slowly stir in the scalded milk/onion/mushroom blend. The end goal is a cream soup similar in thickness to cream of mushroom soup. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and wine to taste while maintaining the proper consistency. Transfer mushroom cream into a casserole dish and stir in the sautéed pieces of prickly pear cactus. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, stir a bit, then sprinkle on the French-fried onions. Return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove and serve.

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Recipe by Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen, Ph.D.; Photo by Heather Barnes