I knew spring had arrived last week when I found asparagus for forty-nine cents a pound in a local supermarket. Although asparagus is available year-round, it is at its best and most affordable this time of year.
My favorite way of cooking asparagus is roasted. Break off the woody ends and save them for soup if you like. Spread the spears in one layer on a baking sheet, drizzle with a good fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher or sea salt, and roast at 400o for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on their thickness. Serve warm or at room temperature as a vegetable side dish, or atop a bed of salad greens with your favorite vinaigrette.
Another thing I like to do is make a flan, sort of a quiche without crust. I recently did this for a casual supper with friends, but it would also make a lovely first course with a tangle of arugula on the side, or as a brunch main course with some sort of fruit salad.
I made individual ones in tart pans, but it is easily made in one baking dish and cut into squares to serve, if you like. You can vary the cheese to your taste. I used a soft goat cheese, but if you prefer, shredded gruyère or fontina would work beautifully.
1 lb asparagus
1 large lemon
3 tbsp butter, plus extra for buttering the baking dishes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped, or 1 tsp dried
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
2 cups shredded fontina or gruyère, or 6 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
Additional tarragon springs, or minced parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350o. Break off the woody lower stems of the asparagus. Place the spears in a glass or ceramic baking dish with a splash of water. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving one corner open to vent. Microwave for 4 minutes, or until just crisp tender. Let cool.
Remove the zest from the lemon in thin strips and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and reserve.
In a skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook the onion in the butter until very tender, but not at all browned. Add the tarragon, stir a couple of times and remove from the heat.
Divide the onion among six buttered baking dishes.
Cut the asparagus into 2” lengths. Reserving the tips, divide among the baking dishes atop the onions. Sprinkle with your cheese of choice.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, cream or milk, reserved lemon juice, salt and pepper until well combined. Pour over the asparagus. Arrange the reserved tips on top. Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the filling is set. Garnish with the lemon zest and tarragon or parsley and serve while still warm. Serves 6.