Spring Fling: Asparagus Gratin

Asparagus Gratin

Remember Summer Fest?  Well, spring has sprung and I’m once again getting together with a fantastic group of bloggers to celebrate some of the best of spring produce.  We’re calling it Spring Fling!  This week, asparagus is the guest of honor, so make sure to check out the links at the bottom of this post and see what the others have cooked up with this delicious spring veggie.  Click around and join the conversation by sharing your own tips, recipes, or links.

I used to hate asparagus.  After onions, it was the most-loathed vegetable of my childhood.  Unfortunately, my parents loved it, so I remember lots of asparagus stare-downs that sometimes landed me in my room directly after dinner.  On asparagus nights, my mom took pity on me and I was only required to eat two small spears, but even that was a struggle that included lots of whining, possibly a few tears, and most likely some dramatic gagging.

Luckily, as I grew up, so did my palate.  I now eat most of the things I despised as a child (raw onions being one exception).  In the spring, I often eat asparagus a couple times a week, sometimes more.

Seven-year-old Nicole would be shocked.

My absolute favorite way to cook asparagus is on the grill.  Grilled asparagus goes well with beef, chicken, pork, fish, or just about anything else you have the inclination to cook over fire. Toss the spears with a bit of olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper and throw them on the grill while the meat is resting (you do let your grilled meat rest before slicing, right?).  It’s fantastic!

When I received an e-mail from Cook’s Country a couple weeks ago with this fantastic-looking Asparagus Gratin recipe, I decided it was time to break out of the grilling routine and try something different with asparagus.  Before I even tried the recipe, I e-mailed the press contact at Cook’s Country to ask permission to reprint it.   I knew just from reading it that I would want to share it with you.

I’ve always loved the recipes from Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen.

I secretly dreamed for years about working at America’s Test Kitchen.  I honestly can’t think of another job I would enjoy doing more.  When I lived in Sicily, I was pretty much running my own test kitchen and still have about a dozen notebooks with scrawled recipe ideas and modifications that I was working on back then.  I was obsessed!  But I was also surrounded by lots of hungry sailors who were willing to eat my experiments.

At this point in my life, I just don’t have the time, space, or resources to test recipes all day long, every day.  Of course I’m still constantly writing down recipe ideas, and I do spend a fair amount of time creating and testing recipes, but I’ve had to rein in my obsession a bit.  In the meantime, I live vicariously through America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country.  And yes, I still dream of working in the Test Kitchen someday!

Asparagus on Plate

I was right, this recipe is fantastic!  The extra step of making a quick stock from the asparagus ends is totally worth the extra few minutes of your time.  I always save the woody ends of asparagus for making stock that turns into asparagus soup – a have a bag in the freezer that’s almost full just from the asparagus I’ve eaten so far this spring!

I followed this recipe to the letter and wouldn’t change a thing.  As always, make sure to use a good quality parmesan cheese. Well-aged Parmigiano Reggiano is going to give you the best flavor.

Asparagus Gratin
reprinted with permission from Cook’s Country
Serves 8

For even cooking, buy asparagus spears between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in diameter.

2 pounds thin asparagus
2 1/2 cups water
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line broiler-safe baking dish with paper towels. Trim 1 1/2 inches from stem end of asparagus and reserve ends. Bring water to boil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus ends and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove asparagus ends and discard. Add asparagus stalks to skillet, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus to paper-lined baking dish. Pour asparagus water into liquid measuring cup; reserve 1 cup.

2. Melt butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in reserved asparagus water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan and Monterey Jack until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.

3. Remove paper towels from baking dish. Drizzle sauce over center of asparagus and top with remaining Parmesan. Broil until cheese is golden and asparagus is tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve.

Check out more Spring Fling Asparagus Tips and Recipes:

  1. Susan

    Drool. I like the fact that nothing is wasted in this recipe right down to the ends! Looks really delish and I relate to your intrigue for recipe design and experimentation. I love the challenge too.

    10:16 am  Apr 20th, 2011
  2. Kalynskitchen

    I’m convinced that this would taste just fantastic!

    10:17 am  Apr 20th, 2011
  3. Ruby

    Looks delicious! Love this post, made me chuckle. My Emma is Nicole’s 7 year old mini-me 🙂

    10:25 am  Apr 20th, 2011
  4. Shannon

    I always hated asparagus as a kid too, up until my 20’s when I tried it roasted and then loved it! I’ve even convinced my husband that he doesn’t hate it either. So now I’m just the mom forcing my kids to eat asparagus. . .Your recipe looks delish!

    10:52 am  Apr 20th, 2011
  5. C in DC

    This looks fabulous. Can’t wait to try it.

    My childhood showdown came over beets. Canned beets. Still have no interest in beets.

    12:30 pm  Apr 20th, 2011
  6. Gaby

    This looks heavenly! Happy Spring Fling!

    2:40 pm  Apr 20th, 2011
  7. Alessandra

    What Italian cheese can be substituted for Monterey Jack?
    Thank you.

    8:13 am  Apr 21st, 2011
  8. Nicole

    Alessandra: You can substitute Bel Paese for Monterey Jack. I’m sure that Fontina would also work.

    8:48 am  Apr 21st, 2011
  9. Kathleen

    Thank you for the luscious recipe; aspargus is a favorite for me. Here is a quick and simple creamy asparagus soup for Spring Fling http://www.dejavucook.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/cr….

    9:59 am  Apr 21st, 2011
  10. Allison

    This looks delicious! Great tip about saving the asparagus ends too.

    10:24 am  Apr 21st, 2011
  11. Jennifer (Savor)

    Love me some asparagus! http://www.savoringthethyme.com/2011/04/asparagus-and-green-beans-with-citrus-garlic-oil/

    4:46 pm  Apr 21st, 2011
  12. Subraya Mallya

    What a fantastic site !!. Love the content, love the delivery. Instant fan !!

    7:52 pm  Apr 21st, 2011
  13. Lana

    I was wondering if there would be the spring event similar to Summer Fest, and now I am happy to discover Spring Fling:)
    We have been eating asparagus at least twice a week this spring, and I can’t get enough. I laughed when I read that you have a big bag of ends in your freezer – mine is bulging, needs to be used pretty soon:)
    Just like you, I prefer my asparagus on the grill or roasted, but I love gratins, and having another recipe in the rotation cannot hurt.
    Looking forward to more of Spring Fling! Is it going to work like Summer Fest? Are you going to announce the vegetables to be used?

    10:43 pm  Apr 22nd, 2011
  14. Susan

    This Asparagus Gratin makes a lot of room for a natural taste. I see seasoning has been minimized and then you also have pepper to accentuate the Parmesan.

    5:53 am  Apr 23rd, 2011
  15. Dawn

    We *heart* asparagus over at Wicked Good Dinner. Here’s one of our favorite spring recipes with asparagus:


    Looking forward to participating in Spring Fling {and summer, too!!}

    11:13 am  Apr 24th, 2011
  16. Mari

    I also hold a soft spot for America’s Test Kitchen & Country Cooks, I was just introduced to it earlier this year. As an aside, their icebox key lime pie, insanely good. I was also one of those non-asparagus ingesting children, but I love it now. Go figure. =)

    8:30 pm  Apr 25th, 2011
  17. Barb

    My sister lived in an older home when we were young. She discovered a well established and modestly sized, but lovely, prolific bed of fat, tender asparagus in her back yard. She hated that asparagus with genuine wrath and tried for years to kill it with weed killers, tried to dig it up, and even dumped gasoline on it and lit it. I used to beg her to stop trying to kill it and just save it for me, because I loved it, but she was intent on destroying it. Finally, she dug the entire area out about 18 inches down and filled the hole with cement. She was finally successful! That was 40 years ago. Several months ago we had a family dinner at my mother’s home. The dish I contributed had asparagus in it, and I noticed her taking a bite of it. She said, “Yes, I know it’s in there, and know what? It’s delicious. I never dreamed that such an ugly plant would taste so good!” I was astonished. “You mean you killed all that asparagus and had never even tasted it?” She said, “No, I thought it was ugly and just wanted to get rid of it.” This Easter her daughter made a generous dish of asparagus gratin, and my sister raved over it all through dinner. I still can’t believe that she waited 40+ years to try something that everyone else in the family loved. Hope this gives the doubters courage and the veggie lovers a big, hearty laugh — on my foolish sister!

    4:14 am  Apr 26th, 2011
  18. sam henderson

    I am so happy to have found your site. I saved it to my reader so I can get caught up. The asparagus looks wonderful! I can’t wait to try it.

    11:41 am  Apr 26th, 2011
  19. Barbara

    I love asparagus, so I’m ahead of the game. This is an unusual and delicious way to serve it. Even asparagus-haters might change their minds.
    Hopefully, some day you can be in America’s Test Kitchen! Great recipes come out of there.

    4:31 am  Apr 27th, 2011
  20. Recipe Clubs

    This reminds me of how my mom cooked asparagus growing up! She’d boil it and a few spices (I wish I remembered now…). I grew up eating it with ketchup, which sounds strange, but it was really good! I think I’ll have to try this sauce instead. I’m not a huge fan of monteray jack… too spicy. Any ideas on what other cheeses I could try?

    11:18 am  Apr 28th, 2011
  21. Kate

    I’ve just made this for the first time, and it’s so wonderful, I can hardly believe it! Thanks!

    4:51 pm  May 1st, 2011
  22. Robert

    I was at the store recently buying a plethora of vegetables (like you do) because they were on sale. Asparagus was one of them and I bought it without thinking about what I might do with it. As I am a huge fan of all things containing cheese, this recipe is a perfect option for my many many spears of asparagus. Side note: When broiling a gratin, make sure the dish is not on the top rack and don’t walk away. Otherwise you will have asparagus gratin a la flambe! Burnt = Gross.

    1:32 pm  May 2nd, 2011
  23. Debbie Upper

    Paula. Deen. Competition. Sides. Category. THESE LOOK DELICIOUS!! You should submit then to the contest! It’s called Real Women of Philadelphia. I just found out about it and did a bit of research. It’s going on for the next few weeks. Get these bad boys in there!! 🙂

    6:41 pm  May 2nd, 2011
  24. Deb

    We have an asparagus plant right outside our patio door in the flower bed. The plant looked so dead when I bought it, we dug a long trench and layed the roots for burial. Surprise, it started growing and now we enjoy fresh asparagus in the spring. My fav recipe is to heat some olive oil in the skillet, throw that fresh asparagus in with some coarse salt. Cook just a very few minutes and yummy – it is so delicious!

    After the harvest time, the plant makes a very attractive bush in the flowerbed.

    7:53 am  May 3rd, 2011
  25. crazybeautifulteaching

    I cannot wait to try this recipe, looks AMAZING!!

    9:51 pm  May 7th, 2011
  26. Jim

    Nice Recipe,

    I just read about growing your own aparagus so now I know what to make with it 🙂



    12:22 am  Jun 13th, 2011
  27. Chris

    I too hated asparagus as a child. Mom only bought the canned spears and it looked and smelled horrible. She loved it and would buy a can just for herself after she soon realized that none of us 4 kids would touch it with a ten foot pole. Now I absolutely love asparagus: grilled, roasted or sautéed. Mom also ruined Chinese food for me. She only served canned chow mein for dinner. I was well into my twenties before I knew that there was more than crappy chow mein to Asian food. Mom was a good cook, she just had her blind spots when it came to canned food!

    1:08 pm  Mar 17th, 2015
  28. MJ

    i noticed you made a roux to get the cheeses to melt better (though you added the left over asparagus liquid). There is an easy quick way to get creamy cheese from any type of cheese. The Modernist Cuisine cookbook for home has a free recipe on it’s web site entitled Perfectly Melting Cheese which describes the science in melting not so easily meltable cheeses by using sodium citrate.
    Caution – the cookbooks will draw you into food science way more than Cooks Illustrated..

    1:08 am  Jun 4th, 2015
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