Gratin of Asparagus with Cheese and Poached Eggs
Softly poached eggs, a mild and melting cheese sauce, a sprinkling of Parmesan and a quick flash under the grill. If you have some of your favourite bread to hand (lots of it) and a bold, chunky crisp green salad (as opposed to a limp one) you will be well pleased. Vegetarians may like to know there is a Parmesan 'style' vegetarian cheese available from www.bookhams.com.
This recipe is from A Year In My Kitchen
| 1 lb (450 g) untrimmed English asparagus|
| 4 large, very fresh eggs|
| 1 oz (25 g) butter|
| 1 oz (25 g) sauce flour|
| 8 fl oz (225 ml) milk|
| 2 oz (50 g) Gruyere cheese, grated|
| 1 heaped tablespoon freshly grated parmesan (see intro)|
| cayenne pepper|
| salt and freshly milled black pepper|
|You’ll also need a gratin dish 10 x 8 inches (25.5 x 20 cm) and 1½ inches (4 cm) deep, well buttered.|
Every year we re-think our basic cooking of asparagus, but always return to steaming.
The less it comes into contact with the water, the better, and peeling asparagus (so favoured by chefs) is not for us as it encourages the tender stalks to absorb more water.
So what we do is break off the stems by taking each stalk in both hands, bending it and snapping off the woody ends. Place the asparagus in a fan steamer but don’t cook them yet.
Now pre-heat the grill to its highest setting and fill a small frying pan with boiling water from the kettle.
Place it on the heat and when some bubbles begin to form turn it down to its lowest setting. Break the eggs and carefully drop each one into the water. Time them for one minute with the water gently simmering, then remove the pan from the heat, put a lid on and put a timer on for ten minutes.
Next melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the flour till smooth then gradually add the milk, whisking continually until you have a smooth sauce – it’s too thick at this stage but needs to left with the heat turned down to its lowest to cook the flour.
Now add boiling water to the asparagus pan, place the fan steamer in it, sprinkle salt over the asparagus, cover with a lid and steam for 4 to 6 minutes (depending on the thickness of the stalks). Test them with a skewer and when they’re cooked, remove them (with tongs if possible) to the gratin dish, reserving half a dozen stalks to garnish later.
Add ¼ pint (150 ml) of the steaming water to the sauce along with the grated Gruyere and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Using a draining spoon and a wad of kitchen paper, remove each egg carefully – allowing any excess water to be absorbed by the paper before you place it on top of the asparagus.
Then pour the cheese sauce over the eggs and asparagus, and garnish first with the reserved asparagus stalks then with a sprinkling of Parmesan and a good pinch of cayenne.
Place the gratin dish near to the grill heat and let it brown very quickly, for not more than a minute.
If this looks in the written word a bit long-winded, let me assure you it only takes about 15 to 20 minutes from start to finish!