“This dish is scrumptious. The sauce is velvet deliciousness. A nice alternative for my favorite spring vegetable. I made a couple of hours ahead then popped into the oven with my entree.” ~JHK
Asparagus Gratin is an easy and elegant spring side dish with a decidedly French accent! It’s equally good as part of a fancy feast, or a quiet dinner for two. There are many ways to enjoy asparagus, but you haven’t lived, asparagus-wise, until you’ve tried this luxe gratin.
This simple asparagus gratin deserves the best ingredients
The seasoning is super minimal in this classic French dish, so the ingredients themselves have to shine.
- the freshest asparagus ~ you can use thick or thin spears, see below.
- fresh milk, cream, and butter.
- nutty aged cheese ~ Gruyere with a little Parm is my choice, but there are lots of aged cheeses to try, even a good sharp cheddar.
- crisp panko breadcrumbs toasted in a little butter ~ the very soul of a gratin.
is thick or thin asparagus better?
Thick and thin asparagus both have advantages, it just depends on what you’re cooking. It’s a myth that skinny asparagus is younger than the fatter ones. They’re essentially different varieties, and both are tender and equally healthy.
I like to use thin asparagus for salads, pasta dishes, stir frys, or any time I want to quick cook it and retain some bright crunch.
Thicker asparagus is wonderfully tender and luxurious, but takes longer to cook. Research reveals that, when it comes to asparagus, fatter spears are actually a tad more tender than their thinner counterparts ~ who knew?
I’ve made this gratin with both thin and thick stalks with equal success, but if I’m using thick stalks I’ll blanch them briefly first, so they’ll have a chance to cook through in the oven. The thin spears cook so quickly they can go right into the gratin raw, which is super convenient.
my method for making asparagus au gratin (can be adapted to many different veggies)
- Blanch the asparagus briefly in boiling water, if necessary. For thinner stalks, just arrange them in a buttered gratin dish. I like all my tips going in the same direction 🙂
- Make a quick béchamel sauce: whisk melted butter and flour together in a saucepan and cook for a minute. Gradually add milk and cream, stirring constantly until thickened.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheeses and seasonings. Pour over the asparagus.
- Bake the gratin for about 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.
- Meanwhile toast the breadcrumbs in some melted butter on the stove top.
- Top with toasted breadcrumbs toward the end of cooking.
pan toasted panko breadcrumbs are the perfect topping for a gratin
Gratin is a technique, not a recipe, and it refers to baking something with a crumb topping. It stands to reason, then, that the breadcrumbs in this recipe are an essential ingredient.
Panko are Japanese style breadcrumbs with a special texture that makes them extra crunchy. You’ll find them right next to the ordinary breadcrumbs in your supermarket. I’ll toast the crumbs with some butter and salt in a pan while the gratin is baking. This breaks with tradition in that the crumbs are usually added to the dish before baking. I find my method keeps the crumbs crunchier, and prevents them from getting too browned, or burning, in the oven.
a secret ingredient for gratins
In my opinion no gratin is complete without a touch of freshly ground nutmeg, it’s the secret ingredient that makes this asparagus gratin utterly irresistible! I keep a jar of whole nutmeg in my spice cabinet at all times, and use a microplane grater to add it to this and lots of other recipes for a subtle flavor that I just love.
what to serve with asparagus gratin
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- 1 lb asparagus
- 3 tbsp (42 grams) butter
- 3 Tbsp (28 grams) all purpose flour
- 1 cup (237 ml) milk
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup (45 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup (125 grams) shredded Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup (21 grams) panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp 14 grams) butter
- Set oven to 375F Butter a gratin dish.
- Wash and trim the ends off the asparagus. If the stalks are thin, just arrange them in your gratin dish. If the stalks are thick, you'll want to pre-cook them just a bit. Blanch them in boiling water for about a minute or so to tenderize it a bit. Bring water to a boil, add the asparagus, and start timing right then. Drain and arrange in your gratin dish.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, and whisk in the flour. Cook for just a minute, but don't let it brown. Then whisk in the milk and cream and blend well. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue heating until the sauce thickens, stirring or whisking constantly.
- Take the sauce off the heat and stir in the cheeses until the they melt and the sauce is smooth.
- Pour the sauce over the asparagus and bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbling and beginning to brown. Toward the end of cooking, top the gratin with the breadcrumbs. Note: I top with the breadcrumbs about halfway through cooking so they don't brown too much.
- Serve asap!