What’s For Dinner?
Virginia Willis' Chef-inspired Asparagus Gratin
(First star is lowest, fourth star is highest)
Southern Recipe Restoration Project
Chef Virginia Willis created this classic gratin utilizing French techniques. She uses a Sauce Mornay, which is simply a bechamel sauce with the addition of cheese. Low- fat or reduced-fat may be used, but to gild the gratin in what Willis calls "glorious excess, " use whole milk and make sure to add the optional egg yolks to the sauce for a truly rich and indulgent version.
Hands on time: 15 minutes Total time: 25 minutes Serves: 4 to 6
1 cup milk
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
6 black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 pound medium asparagus
1/2 cup water
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 egg yolks, optional
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Meanwhile, trim the tough woody ends from the asparagus. Heat the water over high heat in a medium saucepan. Add asparagus and season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Cover and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove the asparagus to a medium baking dish.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute or 2 until foaming to make a roux. Strain the steeped milk into the roux and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and freshly ground white pepper.
Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 2 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Place the yolks in a small bowl. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the sauce into the eggs and stir to combine. (This is called tempering and will help prevent the eggs from cooking in the heat of the sauce.)
Return the tempered yolks to the larger saucepan of sauce and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the asparagus in the baking dish. Top sauce with bread crumbs and dot with remaining tablespoon of butter. Bake until the bread crumbs are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.