Matzah is a well recognized symbol of Passover. That flat oversized cracker that tastes like nothing so much as cardboard. It’s often a little stale, doesn’t digest easily, and in a cruel twist it always seems to appear just as Easter candy hits store shelves. But matzah isn’t the only iconic Passover food. There’s brisket, the generally adored centerpiece of the traditional holiday meal, an unnecessary variety of packaged kosher-for-Passover desserts, most of which aren’t worth eating, and then there’s asparagus. As far back as I can remember there has been asparagus on Passover and I’ve had a troubled relationship with it.
The asparagus I remember eating as a kid at Passover seders was always steamed till it was almost grey and served without salt. Both are major faux pas in cooking this particular vegetable – overcooking and underseasoning make asparagus’s bitterness more pronounced – and as a result I avoided it in all forms. At best I’d eat one or two tips and then only after they’d soaked up the sauce from my serving of brisket. But the stalks? Forget it. Even now I’ll still probably pass on steamed asparagus. But at some point I was introduced to roasted spears and then I fell for shavings of raw asparagus on salads and pasta and pizza. I’m hooked.
When asparagus season rolls around in the spring I spend a few months gorging myself on it. At the beginning of the season I stick with plain roasted spears and then start adding it to everything I can until by the time it’s going out of the markets I’m glad to see it go so I can move onto something else. I can’t say whether this preparation would tempt my asparagus-hating self – who knows if the cheesy topping would outweigh the earthy vegetal flavor that I then disliked and now enjoy. But if someone brought this for Passover these days, well, I’d be sure to clean my plate.
Makes 3-4 servings
About the title of this dish – gratinee is just a fancy way to say “with cheese baked on top”. And while it’s not perhaps the healthiest way to eat your vegetables, it’s certainly delicious.
1 lb asparagus, bottom 2-3 inches removed
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/3 – 1/2 mayo
1/4 – 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
PREHEAT the oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with foil and arrange the asparagus spears on the pan, tossing them with the olive oil and salt.
ROAST the asparagus for 10 minutes and then remove it from the oven. Turn on the broiler (and turn off the oven if your broiler control is separate from the oven control).
ARRANGE the asapargus spears on the sheet pan so that all the spears are touching. Then, using a spatula or off-set knife, spread the mayo over the spears. You can coat them entirely or leave the tips uncoated (which I prefer). Sprinkle the parmesan over the mayo and slide the asparagus under the broiler.
BROIL for 3-5 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbly. Keep an eye on its since the cheese can burn quickly.
SERVE immediately, this dish is best hot and fresh. To serve, it helps to separate the asparagus into 3 or 4 spear bunches – if you just pull on a spears individually the cheesy topping sometimes gets left behind. For better or worse this dish doesn’t reheat well and the leftovers just aren’t as tasty so only make as much as you need.