No matter where you live, there are four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

In terms of fresh produce, though, there are more and nuanced seasons we await every year with mouthwatering anticipation. The seasons for tomatoes, melons, strawberries, okra, squash, citrus, leafy greens.

And, of course, asparagus. In Germany, this particular season has a name: Spargelzeit. It really just means “asparagus time” but it sounds so poetic in German. And white asparagus time is the most special time of all.

Today’s recipe is very simple and provided us with a very special lunch one Sunday afternoon.

It can easily be made with green asparagus and regular butter instead of the truffle butter. I simply had some really flavorful truffle butter from my friends Pauline and Alex in Switzerland, and thought this was a nice way to use it.

Happy spring!

~ David

White Asparagus Gratin

1 pound white (or green) asparagus
a few sprigs of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves (1 dried)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons truffle (or plain) butter, plus extra for the pan
1/2 cup broken plain crackers

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Bring a saucepan of lightly salted water to boil. Trim the asparagus and peel it, leaving the tips and about 1 inch unpeeled. Reserve the peels. Place the asparagus in the boiling water, reduce heat and simmer for 7 minutes. While the asparagus is cooking, grease a gratin dish liberally with butter. When the asparagus is done, drain and arrange in the gratin dish. Set aside.

Place asparagus peels, thyme, and bay leaves in a small saucepan. Add milk, bring to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Strain the herbed milk into the butter and flour mixture, and cook over medium heat until béchamel sauce is thick. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pour the béchamel over the asparagus.

Melt the truffle butter in a small skillet; crush the cracker crumbs and add to the butter. Season well with pepper. Cook a minute or two, until the cracker crumbs take on some color. Sprinkle them over the béchamel sauce, and bake for 20 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish.

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