Of all the world’s vegetables, asparagus are probably the most prized and elegant. Food historians date the young shoots of this perennial plant that appears in the first warm and wet days of spring as early as 3000 BC in Egypt. By 1469, asparagus were cultivated in French monasteries and greenhouse and enjoyed by the upper classes and royalty.
The asparagus plant, which is actually one of the lily family’s cultivated forms, traveled to North America in 1655. Currently, China is the largest producer of asparagus, growing more than 7 million tons. California, Michigan, and Washington are the top producing regions in the United States. Here in Maine, asparagus is an important homestead and perennial crop. Local farmers markets, food coops, and health food stores are abundant with bright green or purple tipped, delicious food.
Here at Rabbit Hill, my husband started our asparagus bed in 2011, and the roots are still growing strong. Asparagus prefers well-drained, fertile soil with a ph. of 7 in full sun or part shade. They also are heavy feeders, needing fertility inputs over the years, and plenty of water during harvest.
Asparagus season is cause for celebration, and we enjoy them almost daily; steamed with hollandaise sauce, grilled with herbs, in soups and stir-fries, even on pizza.
The recipe for Asparagus and Spring Herb Bake was inspired by the French country tradition of cooking from a potager, or kitchen garden. This simple, culinary style uses seasonally fresh ingredients that sparkle with essential flavors.
This casserole is easy to prepare, and allows for plenty of cook’s creativity. Vary the cheese, and use the herbs growing in your garden. When served with a slice of smoked ham or sausage, Asparagus Bake is perfect for a light lunch or brunch. Delicious warm or cold, the dish would travel well to a picnic or neighborhood cookout. Or for breakfast, top it with a fresh egg, and appreciate the bounty of the season.
Asparagus & Spring Herb Bake
- 1- pound asparagus
- ½ pound bread sliced, about 7 – 8 pieces
- 2 cups grated cheese about 6 ounces (Fontina, Asiago, Swiss, cheddar, Romano)
- ½ cup chopped fresh spring herbs basil, thyme, chives, tarragon, parsley
- 5 eggs
- 2 ½ - 3 cups milk
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” x 13” -baking dish or 3 quart casserole.
- If needed, slice the bread into thin pieces.
- Trim the ends from the asparagus, removing the woody ends. Cut the stalks on the diagonal into slivers each about 2 inches long.
- Cook the asparagus until just barely tender, remove from heat and set aside.
- Chop the herbs and set aside.
- Whisk together the milk, eggs, and 1 teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly grated black pepper.
- Tear the bread into small pieces and layer the bottom of the casserole. Top with half of the asparagus and chopped herbs and sprinkle with cheese. Layer the remaining bread, asparagus and chopped herbs and scatter the remaining cheese over the top.
- Pour the milk mixture over the casserole, adding a bit more milk if necessary to cover.
- Bake in the preheated 350- degree oven until the top is golden brown and the casserole is set, about 35 – 45 minutes.
- Let cool briefly and cut into pieces.