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Spring Fling: 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!

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: