Asparagus and Potato Gratin

Are asparagus and potatoes the most quintessential of all British ingredients? No, probably not. Strawberries, apples, cucumber and rhubarb have instantly sprung to mind. So let me rephrase the question, or indeed turn it into a statement. Asparagus and potatoes are intrinsically British, and we should celebrate them, and all other fruit and veg that grows on these isles and stop eating so much bloody avocado.
On a side note; asparagus and potatoes haven’t always been so British. Potatoes are of Peruvian descent, much like Paddington bear and asparagus was known to the Egyptians and Romans long before the British started cultivating it. Yet here they are, enhancing our lives, adding richness and culture to our diets and broadening our horizons. Read between the lines if you like.

In the 6-8 weeks that we’re blessed with tender green spears of asparagus, and pale golden nodules of new potatoes we should fill our boots, gorging on them like there’s no tomorrow. Luckily there is tomorrow. A tomorrow filled with more asparagus and potatoes.
But eating them so often calls for variety in the dishes we make. Sure, dousing them both in butter or hollandaise works a treat; but the same can’t be said for our arteries. Maybe save such richness for weekend lunches and dinner. Midweek meals should be just a touch lighter. That said I have still managed to add butter and cheese to this dish. You’re welcome.
This gratin perfectly suffices served on its own, with nothing more than a glass of white. You could of course treat it as a side, alongside some fish – sustainable MSC accredited Cornish hake for example. You could even, to keep things interesting, replace the asparagus with broccoli, or green beans, strips of courgette or even spring onions. Better still; a mix of them all.

Serves: 2 as a main meal or 4 as a side
Cooking Time: 1hr

600g New potatoes
1-2 Tbsps, chopped thyme
150ml Vegetable Stock
500g Asparagus
15g Butter
15g Flour
225g Milk
80g Mature cheddar, grated

Heat the oven to 200c (fan).

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, 3mm is perfect. A mandolin makes the task easier but hand cut is also acceptable, don’t worry too much about the thickness if hand cutting the potatoes.

Layer the potatoes in a baking dish measuring roughly 25cm x 15cm and 2 inches deep. After each layer of potatoes sprinkle a little salt, not too much as the stock will add saltiness too, and some thyme. Once you have used all the potatoes pour over the stock, cover with foil and place in the oven for 30mins.

During this time prepare the asparagus by cutting off the woody ends. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and drop the asparagus in. Cook for two minutes then drain and run under cold water for 20-30 secs to stop the asparagus cooking further.

After 30 minutes remove the foil from the potatoes and place back in the oven for 15 minutes so the top turns lightly golden.

Turn the grill to high.

Make the white sauce by melting the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. Add the flour and stir until a thick, smooth paste is formed. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking well between each addition and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper and half the grated cheese. Stir the sauce to melt the cheese then remove from the heat.

Once the potatoes are golden, remove from the oven and place the asparagus spears on top alternating from head to toe and making sure they just stick out over the edge. Pour over the cheese sauce, scatter with the remaining cheese and place under a hot grill for ten minutes until the cheese is golden and the asparagus has charred.

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