I know everyone is busy as can be getting ready for the holiday, at least the ones here in the USA where we observe Thanksgiving. I am no different and like so many, there are many side dishes that are constant every year but for some reason, I like to add a different, maybe a few 'new' ones to the table. The only problem with that line of thinking is deciding which sides will get the cut...
This is a remake of an asparagus casserole we enjoy and I hope you will too. Rich, creamy cheese flavors mingling with tiny tender asparagus bites, suspended in a homey nutty cracker thickened sauce all lying under a buttery gratin - oh yeah, it's good. The one pictured above I made for testing last week and is half of the recipe below, so do not judge the dish size at all...
Country Asparagus Casserole
3 pounds fresh young asparagus tips (spears), trimmed
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup grated Swiss or Parmesan
3/4 cup grated American Cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup Hoop cheese or New York State Sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup slivered almonds
pinch of salt
2 cups crushed or broken saltine crackers, divided
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Wash the asparagus tips and cut off the ends; normally removing about quarter-inch is fine if using the tiny, thin spears or snap regular thicker asparagus at breaking point and remove tough scales with peeler. Blanch tips in boiling water for about a minute or cook larger spears in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain, cool and cut into bite size pieces. Arrange asparagus in a lightly greased 13x9-inch casserole dish.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the 3-tablespoons of butter and when foaming, whisk in flour until mixture is smooth, cooking for about a minute. Slowly whisk in the milk until sauce is bubbly and thicken slightly. Remove from heat, stir in the Parmesan, Sharp Cheddar, 1/2 cup American Cheddar, almonds and salt. Fold in 1 1/4 cups crushed crackers. Pour over the asparagus and mix together.
Place in a preheated 350 degree F. oven and bake for 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir remaining crackers (I like the rustic broken look but feel free to crush to crumb texture), American Cheddar, paprika and butter. Remove casserole from oven, sprinkle gratin mixture over the top and bake another 10 to 15 minutes or until top in brown.
Note: Many recipes of long ago use saltines as a binder rather than egg or flour thickener. Use butter cracker crumbs if desired for, as some would say, a more refined appearance.