Monday, April 16, 2012

Asparagus Mornay

Nothing cries out 'Spring is here!' more than a big bundle of fresh asparagus.  Lovey and I were recipients recently of a huge bundle of freshly picked asparagus from our neighbor's garden.  I guess I should clarify that we did not nick the asparagus from our neighbor's garden.
It was enough to enjoy for two nights.  With half of our bounty I made Garlic Asparagus, which is our go-to twice a month way to eat our favorite green vegetable.

I treat fresh asparagus the same way I would a bouquet of flowers.  I cut a thin slice, on the bias, off the bottom of each stalk and place them in a size-appropriate container that has about an inch of water in it.  You can use a pretty vase or a jar, and if you're really classy like me you can put them in this plastic margarita mug that was purchased at a 2005 Summer Mummer's performance; it's the perfect size.  Store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.

To use the rest of the asparagus I looked through my daunting box of recipe clippings and found a recipe from the May 1997 issue of Southern Living.  The recipe was submitted by Ellie Wells from Lakeland, Florida.

When you are ready to prepare the asparagus hold the tip in one hand and the base in the other.  With the hand that is holding the base, gently push the spear away from you and it will snap naturally where the spear begins to get tough.  Spears that are nice and thin really don't need this treatment.  You can also, at your discretion, peel the fat spears 3/4  of the way up the spear.

Get the ingredients for the mornay sauce ready to go.  You have butter, flour, half-and-half, ground nutmeg, salt, bouillon, and Swiss cheese

Now for the asparagus.  Ellie prefers to boil her asparagus covered in water for about 8 to 10 minutes.  I prefer to steam mine and it doesn't take that much time for it to reach the crisp-tender that you will want for this recipe.

When the asparagus is crisp-tender, place it in a lightly greased 11" x 7" pan.

Begin your sauce, as so many sauces are, by melting the butter and adding the flour to make a roux.

Whisk until smooth and continue whisking as the roux cooks for about a minute.  This will alleviate a floury taste.

Slowly add the bouillon, half-and-half, nutmeg and salt.  Continue cooking this over medium heat whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbly.

Remove your saucepan from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted.

Pour the mornay sauce over the asparagus and top with the cracker crumbs.

Place under the broiler until lightly browned. 

Okay, here's the deal.  I have been wrestling whether to show you the finished product or not.  My first inclination was, "No way".  I'm so embarrassed to show you how stupid I was.  On the other hand I'm only human and we all screw up in the kitchen don't we?  It wasn't like I was making this for company.

While the asparagus was under the broiler I made the mistake of going over to the sink to work on cleaning up this mess.

Before I knew it, this is what my beautiful dish looked like.

Heaven knows this is why I would never want to be a contestant on 'The Next Food Network Star'.  I would be brow beaten and brought to my knees in tears.

Believe it or not, the over-browning did not hurt the flavor of this dish whatsoever.  I'm still in denial - it's b-u-r-n-t, okay?  A little advice... stand in front of your oven and keep an eye on food that is being broiled.

I was really pleased with this recipe and it will grace our table again.

Asparagus Mornay
Yield:  4 servings

1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
1/2 tsp chicken bouillon granules
2 Tbsp hot water
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup half-and-half
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese
2 round buttery crackers

Mise en Place
  • Snap off touch ends of asparagus and rinse the asparagus in cold water.
  • dissolve chicken bouillon granules in the hot water
  • measure out butter, flour, half-and-half, nutmeg and salt
  • shred cheese
  • crumble up crackers in small baggie
Lightly grease and 11" x 7" casserole and set aside.  Steam asparagus until crisp-tender (about 5 - 8 minutes).  Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Arrange the asparagus in the bottom of the prepared casserole.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in flour until smooth.  cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.  Gradually whisk in the bouillon, half-and-half, nutmeg, and salt; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from heat; stir in cheese until melted.  Pour mixture over asparagus; sprinkle with cracker crumbs.

Broil 6 inches from heat for 3 - 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Source:  Southern Living ~ May 1997

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