It’s been one of those absolutely insane weeks—and it’s only the first of many busy weeks in a row for me. For instance, Doug was a perfect gentleman and asked me to marry him last weekend (April 15th to be exact) and what’s ensued has been a whirlwind of celebrations and subsequent hangovers. What can I say? I can’t say no to champagne!
Besides celebrating our engagement (and Doug’s birthday), I’m back to school again three nights a week from 6 to 11 p.m. I’ve got baking class twice a week, so I’ve been bringing home boxes filled with muffins, scones, baguettes, ciabatta, and loaves of white and wheat bread. And on Wednesdays I have my Personal Chef Practicum, which is a lot of fun because for the most part we won’t be using recipes. This past week, though, we made an entire Latin feast that included empanadas, Arroz con Pollo, Black Bean Soup, and Quatro Leches cake. Holy cow was I in heaven!
Right now, I’m writing to you from my parents’ home in Kentucky. My week wouldn’t be complete without a 5-hour drive back to Northern Kentucky with my cat Dina meowing the entire frickin’ way. Luckily my parents have offered to keep her at their home while I travel around the next few weekends to see Doug’s family in Michigan and to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at my friend Kris’s house in Milwaukee with mole and margaritas, so I’ll have a blessedly quiet trip back to Chicago tomorrow morning.
Of course, despite all this travel and hullabaloo, I still found some time to make an Easter feast for my extended family like I do every year. This year I had lots of help from my siblings and their significant others, and we put together a feast that included the all-important Easter ham, a Cast-Iron Skillet Potato Cake, and this very delicious Asparagus Gratin. It’s asparagus season, and if you ever get sick of eating it plain (but really, how could you?), this gratin is a nice change of pace. And it’s good for a crowd.
What’s really interesting about this recipe, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, is that the asparagus is actually cooked in an asparagus stock made from the trimmed asparagus ends instead of plain water to keep the asparagus flavor bright, fresh, and present. After you cook the asparagus in the asparagus stock, some of the stock is used to make a cheese sauce to pour over the asparagus. It’s simple, easy, and delicious, and sure to satisfy the asparagus lovers in your life. Happy Easter!
This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, a magazine from the producers of America’s Test Kitchen, a weekly cooking television program. For more even cooking, buy asparagus spears between ¼- and ½-inch in diameter. This dish serves 8. Click here to download a print copy of this recipe.
2 pounds thin asparagus
2½ cups water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk
¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. shredded Monterey Jack, Gruyere or Swiss cheese
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
Make quick asparagus stock. 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 tsp. 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 tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus to paper-lined baking dish. Pat the asparagus dry and discard the paper towels. Reserve one cup of the asparagus water.
Make cheese sauce. 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 milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in ½ c. Parmesan and Monterey Jack until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Broil gratin. Turn on your broiler. Drizzle sauce over the center of the asparagus and top with the remaining Parmesan. Broil the gratin until the cheese golden and the asparagus is warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes.