I'm so excited that it's spring and we're starting to see delicious spring produce popping up-- asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, and rhubarb just to name a few. There are so many fruits and vegetables that are coming into season in so many beautiful colors right now. I always look forward to seeing asparagus in the spring and enjoy trying out new ways to prepare it each year. I saw this recipe for Asparagus Gratin, made with mascarpone cheese in this month's Fine Cooking and couldn't wait to try it out when we got together with some friends for dinner recently. It ended up being a big hit and it's a dish that I'm going to make again for Easter dinner this weekend. I don't know about you, but I always love to find new vegetable and side dishes to make for company or dinner parties and this really fits that bill. I find it easy to come up with main courses and dessert (of course!) but always struggle on the sides. This one is definitely a keeper, I'm happy to say. Because you prepare the whole thing in the broiler, the dish comes together in under 20 minutes, and uses only the casserole dish you bake it in. Plus, how can you go wrong with anything made with mascarpone cheese? The combination of the asparagus with the bread crumbs and the mascarpone was creamy and delicious but not over-powering.
One final note, I'm always a little nervous when broiling because I know things can go from under cooked to scorched in the blink of an eye, so just keep an eye on your dish and set your timer for a minute or so less than the called for time to adjust for your broiler's temperature. In the final stage when I added the bread crumbs and cheese and put the dish in the broiler to toast the crumbs and melt the cheese, I was a few seconds shy of burning the topping. Thankfully, I just happened to check on the dish a little before the timer went off and grabbed it before my bread crumbs burned. I found that for my oven, it only took a little over a minute to melt the mascarpone and brown the breadcrumbs.
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 of a small yellow onion, finely diced
1 1/2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
5 oz. mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (optional. I didn't have any and thought it was delicious without it)
Position oven rack 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler on high. Trim 1 1b. asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces. In a 2-quart gratin dish that is safe for the broiler, toss the asparagus with half a finely diced small yellow onion, 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Broil until crisp-tender, about 6-minutes but, broilers can vary so it may be good to check at about 4 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile toss 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs with 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Dollop 5 oz. mascarpone in little spoonfuls over the asparagus, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (if using), and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Broil until bubbly and golden-brown, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve.
Adapted from Fine Cooking