Asparagus & Gabriel cheese gratin with herbed hazelnut crust and fried capers
This is the latest variation on a classic Paradiso dish that gets a run out every year at this time. It’s usually the first thing we make when asparagus shows up, and every year it changes just a little bit. Fried capers are delicious with asparagus, especially if you can the tiny ones, whether salted or brined, that have a much more concentrated and floral flavour.
The restaurant kitchen method of cooking each portion separately might seem a bit fiddly, but it really is the best way and, under a hot grill, each plate will take less than a minute to cook. You could also cook the whole lot together in one shallow oven dish. In which case, put just a little of the mustard sauce in the dish with the asparagus and hazelnut crust and keep the rest warm on the stove, and pour a little around each portion after plating.
This is a starter, but a rich one that can easily become a main course with a little fleshing out. Try putting some sliced cooked potato underneath the asparagus, and some thick slices of roast tomato too, if you’re that way inclined. Or simply serve some mash or new potatoes on the side and be a bit more generous with the mustard cream.
40g day old bread
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
40g hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
60g Gabriel cheese, grated
2 tablespoons tiny capers
20 asparagus spears, tough ends discarded
100mls white wine
100mls vegetable stock or water
1 tsp strong smooth mustard
Make a crumble by mixing the bread and herbs in a food processor to get a fine crumb. Transfer to a bowl and add the hazelnuts, melted butter and all but one tablespoon of the Gabriel cheese.
Fry the capers until crisp in a deepfryer or a small pan, and drain them on kitchen paper.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the asparagus for two minutes, then plunge it into cold water. Drain when cool.
Put the wine and vegetable stock in a small pan and simmer for a few minutes until reduced by half. Add the cream and mustard, bring back to a boil and simmer again for a few minutes, until the sauce has a slightly thickened pouring consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn a grill on to high heat.
Arrange the asparagus on serving plates, each spear set slightly apart. Pour over the cream and sprinkle on some of the crumble. Place each plate under the grill until the crumble has browned a little. Scatter some fried capers over each plate and serve.