Why this recipe works:
Rather than cook our Asparagus Gratin in a cheesy sauce, we opted to cook the two aspects separately and combine them at the end. We initially turned to gruyére cheese, a classic element in gratin dishes, but it caused our sauce to be slightly gritty. Replacing it with milder, smoother… read more
Rather than cook our Asparagus Gratin in a cheesy sauce, we opted to cook the two aspects separately and combine them at the end. We initially turned to gruyére cheese, a classic element in gratin dishes, but it caused our sauce to be slightly gritty. Replacing it with milder, smoother Monterey Jack fixed the problem. We also found that tasters preferred a version of the sauce that replaced the half-and-half entirely with vegetable stock made from the trimmed ends of the asparagus, which also enhanced the vegetable's flavor.less
For even cooking, buy asparagus spears between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in diameter.
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line broiler-safe baking dish with paper towels. Trim 1½ inches from stem end of asparagus and reserve ends. Bring water to boil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus ends and ¼ 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 ½ 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.
Making a Lighter, Livelier Sauce
To highlight the flavor of delicate asparagus, we make a five-minute vegetable stock from the wood ends. The asparagus spears simmer in the stock, and we reserve the now double-concentrated liquid to use in our cheese sauce in place of the usual (smothering) heavy cream.