Asparagus Coddled in Cheese Sauce

Let the Fresh Flavor Shine.

Asparagus is so good this time of year, it seems to be plentiful in all grocers. But even at the peak of harvest season, a ‘good buy’ seems to be a tad too much. Why is that? Well, it seems asparagus, which grows to be a big ol’ fern if not gathered young, takes a long time to harvest, three years or more in fact from seed germination. The young ones, the kind I used in this recipe, are many times referred to as ‘pencils’.  You can find these real thin ones right now in the markets.

‘Pencil’ Asparagus

And, just so you know, the size does not necessarily indicate how tender or tough the spear will be as thin ones stored for a long time are tough as are big and fresh, day-picked fat ones harvested late. When shopping, look for spears with a bright green color, have compact heads, and the ends look freshly cut, not shriveled. Prepare asparagus soon after purchasing but you can refrigerate them wrapped in plastic for a day or two. The easiest and fastest way to remove the tough ends is to snap each at its natural breaking point rather than peeling away the tough outside and scales. I hold each spear in one hand just pass the tender ‘frongs’ or tip and with the other hand holding at the cut end, I bend the spear in an arching motion until is snaps at its own breaking point.

For this recipe, I used a pound which on average will feed 2 to 4 folks depending on  serving size of course.You can also cut up your spears into bite-size pieces, which I almost did here, and for every pound of fresh asparagus, I normally get about 3 cups or so. What I like about this recipe is that it allowed the wonderful, fresh taste of the asparagus to come forth with the spears being crisp tender and the sauce lay only a delicate flavor of richness coddling the spears. Enjoy!

Asparagus Coddled in Mild Cheese Sauce
about 4 servings

1 pound thin asparagus
1 quart boiling, salted water
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
dash of Worcestershire
1/3 cup grated mild cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup buttered crumb mixture

Wash the asparagus and break off the tough ends. Arrange flat in a dish and cover with the boiling salted water. Let set for 5 minutes. Drain and set asparagus aside on towel to dry.

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and blend in the flour stirring for 2 minutes. Season with the Cajun spice and gradually stir in the milk making a thin white sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend in the Worcestershire and remove from heat. Blend in the cheese and then stir in the red bell pepper.

Arrange the asparagus in a buttered casserole and spoon the sauce on top. Scatter the top with the buttered crumb mixture. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and crumb is brown.

Note: For the crumb mixture I added about 6 garlic croutons and about 4 saltines in a baggie and pounded the heck out of it with a mallet. I then tossed the crumbs with about a teaspoon of melted butter.

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