Asparagus gratin

I daresay these days asparagus is perpetually on tap from somewhere or another. In Geneva it’ll come from South America in the offseason.

I’d rather wait. Seasonal produce is special! One of the things you can look forward to hereabouts on about the first day of April is local asparagus. Local in Geneva terms means Swiss, or maybe Italian, and certainly there will be supplies from Provence. Always the most expensive and always irresistible.

 

Asparagus gratin (3)
Asparagus gratin

Ingredients

asparagus: 500g or so*
300 ml milk
25g butter
25g flour
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
75g cheese, grated**

*what sort of asparagus? I like green. I imagine that the white can’t be as good for you for a start. As to fat vs thin, I like both. I can’t help thinking it is quality not type that matters. By all means disagree, I’d love to have the finer points of asparagus explained to me.

**what sort of cheese? It depends where I am and what’s available. I’ve sometimes used Epicure for the sauce and parmesan on top in Australia. In Geneva, gruyere is the obvious candidate. Fontina is a great melting cheese.

On mature reflection it could be that a mild cheese lets the asparagus have more of a say. Maybe if it isn’t good asparagus you want to do something to shut it up. Maybe that’s where Epicure comes into it.

Method

While the oven is heating to 220C:

Snap the ends off the asparagus. They will break at just the right place to be able to discard the woody part. You may want to lightly peel the stems with a potato peeler. I do sometimes, but mostly it doesn’t seem necessary to me. Steam them in a bamboo steamer for a couple of minutes. You might want to put cold water over them at that point to prevent them overcooking.

Make the cheese sauce: on medium heat melt the butter, add the flour and stir well mixed, then add milk. I do this a bit at a time, thoroughly mixing to avoid lumps as I go along. I have sometimes done it my mother’s way and put all the milk in at the same time and then mixed vigorously as it comes to the boil. I can’t say this is my forte in the kitchen, basically I get lumps sometimes and I have never figured out why. I always think I’m doing it the same way as the last time.

Let it come to the boil and then lower the heat, all the while whisking. It will have thickened during this process. Take off the heat, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in 50g of the cheese.

Grease an oven dish, lie the asparagus down and then top with the cheese sauce. Add the remaining cheese and also some breadcrumbs if you like. About 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. It’s an easy decision, it’ll look nicely brown on top and that is the cue you need for the denouement.

Take the dish to the table. Ooohs and aaahs. Thoroughly deserved in my view.

Asparagus gratin (1)
Asparagus gratin
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