I love asparagus. Steamed. Sauteed with a little butter. Simmered in a cream sauce. However one makes it, I am not opposed to eating it. Just recently, I happened to find some white asparagus at my local market, and it was on sale for the same price as the green stuff! Needless to say, I couldn't pass it up... I had never worked with the stuff before, but I had seen it around (for, usually, a pretty penny) at the stores more than once or twice. Being that it was always more expensive than the green variety, as is the purple variety, I hadn't been able to justify splurging on something that I wasn't sure about. But, since I now found it for the same price, I couldn't very well walk on by!
White asparagus is actually the same species as green, but it's usually kept covered under soil or mulch so that it won't be exposed to the sun, thereby maintaining it's white color. Blah blah blah, chlorophyll borophyll... While doing my research, I did read that the white asparagus is supposed to be more woody than the green and so you are supposed to peel the very outside before preparing it. When I made this recipe, I used it peeled and unpeeled, just because I was curious if it really made a difference, and I didn't notice anything different in the texture. I think that if you let it sit around for a long period of time, then it would start to become woody and tough, much like the green stuff, but if you use it right away it's just fine.
When looking for recipes to use the white asparagus in, there didn't seem to be very many... Or, at least, not many that were truly unique. I've had gratins on the brain for a while now, though, since I insisted on having 6 new gratin dishes! (In my defense, they're not all the exact same! Two of them are black with white polka dots - LOVE!!, two of them are dark blue, and two of them are light blue! :-) You may remember the lighter blue ones from my post about the Chocolate Cherry Crisps...) I had originally considered using a recipe by one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kevin from Closet Cooking, but decided, in the end, to go with a different one that I had found via the New York Times Diner's Journal blog, written by Elaine Louie. The version that she blogged about was much more grand than mine, but I really wanted to asparagus to be the one and only star of the dish. I used the recipe she posted as a guideline, and then just made it what I really wanted it to be. The sauce part was really what I was most interested in, and it was AMAZING!! I'm not sure if I didn't reduce it as much as I was supposed to, but the sauce wasn't very thick at all... That is really of little consequence, though, as we just dipped pieces of fresh, yummy bread into it to soak it all up. Who doesn't like that?!
I made two batches of this recipe, one the day before and one the day I made it, and they came out with equal results. So, if you're planning to make this for a holiday dinner, it's definitely easy to prepare ahead of time! I left mine sit out at room temperature so that it would have a similar cooking time as the ones I made the same day, but I mixed everything and arranged it in the gratin dishes ahead of time. You could also easily make this in a larger baking dish, making sure to check the asparagus for doneness and all of that, but it may take some extra time. But, I'm sure you could certainly find a way to justify buying a couple of gratin dishes of your very own, too... ;-)
1 c. heavy cream
2 shallots, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, bundled together
¼ c. dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch green asparagus; trimmed and cut diagonally into ½-inch slices
½ bunch white asparagus; trimmed, peeled, and cut diagonally into ½-inch slices
1⅛ c. grated Parmesan cheese
¼ c. panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, shallots, thyme, and wine; place over medium heat and simmer until reduced by half, 20 to 30 minutes. Discard the thyme bundle and season the cream mixture with salt and pepper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the asparagus, reduced cream, and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese; mix well and place in two individual (approximately 16 ounce) gratin dishes, or other equal-sized ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the tops of the asparagus. In a small mixing bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the dishes. Place the gratin dishes on a baking sheet, set in the oven, and bake until the asparagus are tender, the sauce is bubbling, and the bread crumbs are golden brown, 6 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.