The tender tips of asparagus are emerging with much trepidation after a gruelling winter followed by a false start to spring. I not only adore their unique flavour but the joy that asparagus are one of the only foods which even the Queen can delight in eating with her hands. Since we are currently straddling two seasons, I feel this recipe is apt: asparagus gratin; the flavour of a spring vegetable served hot under a blanket of melted cheese to counteract the chill of early spring. It is also a simple recipe so we can spend as much time outside as possible soaking up some much needed Vitamin D. Tender stalks of asparagus with the woody bottoms snapped off are briefly steamed and dusted with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The whole thing is whacked under the grill until the cheese has turned crunchy and golden.
Asparagi gratinati (asparagus and Parmesan gratin)
Preheat your grill to the second to hottest setting. If there is only one setting, set the level slightly further away from the element.
Snap off the woody base of the asparagus, moving your fingers up from the blunt end and wiggling until you find a more flexible part and then snap off the end. For fatter stems with more waxy skins, peel the asparagus from below the tips with a vegetable peeler.
Place the asparagus in a steamer until half way cooked (up to 7 minutes for fat asparagus).
Prepare a large bowl of cold water and add ice. Plunge the asparagus into the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, remove and drain fully.
Grease a grill-proof baking tray with the olive oil and place the asparagus on the tray. Drizzle the 20 mls of olive oil over the asparagus and sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over top.
Grill the asparagus until the cheese is melted and golden, up to 15 minutes. Be vigilant as the grill can easily scorch anything in seconds.