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Many cooks just blanch and boil, saute or bake asparagus spears, with just minor additions like salt, pepper, oil and perhaps some lemon juice. Others make it the star of an asparagus casserole, brimming with other savory ingredients. This could be a side dish, pairing the spears with flavorful seasonings, copious cheeses, and a bread crumb coating. It could also be a full-blown entree, adding chicken or shrimp to the recipe.
Asparagus casserole starts by properly preparing the spears. Some recipes call for chopped asparagus, others for whole spears. In either case, they should be fully ripened, not wilted and fully washed. The stalks are then snapped naturally at their bases to remove the parts that are unlikely to get tender. This can all be avoided, however, if the asparagus is purchased in a can — a practice that many would consider abhorrent for this type of recipe.
A vegetarian version of asparagus casserole might contain chopped asparagus, that is sauteed until tender with garlic and onions. This is then folded into a whisked mixture of eggs, cream and cheeses like Gruyere, cheddar and parmesan. According to a recipe from the Food Network Web site, the sauteed vegetables are tossed with a whisked mixture of egg, cream, dill and Gruyere and parmesan cheeses. This goes into a casserole dish, then is covered with a mixture of bread crumbs, melted butter and paprika — all of which bakes uncovered for about 20 minutes at 350°F (about 177°C).
Though hearty enough, many would still consider the above recipe a side dish. This can be corrected by simply adding meat to the recipe before the baking begins. One recipe for chicken asparagus casserole, from the Backyard Grower Web site, grills the asparagus briefly before placing it at the bottom of the casserole dish. This is followed by quickly seared chicken that will finish cooking in the oven, at the slightly higher temperature of 375°F (about 190°C) for 25 minutes.
Several ingredients can be swapped out. Instead of the eggs and dill, cooks can use a can of cream of chicken soup. The Gruyere cheese could be left behind for Monterey Jack, which could replace the bread crumbs as the topping, instead of being whisked into the creamy soup. Also, several other types of vegetables can be added to this recipe, from little peas and capers to larger chunks of carrot and squash.
I usually use the little frozen baby asparagus spears. They're thin and not nearly as likely to be tough on the ends. I roast them for about 15 minutes in the oven, drizzled with olive oil, then cut them into bite-sized pieces and add them to my casserole mixture.
I'm a purist. I like Ritz crackers crushed and mixed with melted butter and paprika as my topping for my asparagus casserole. To me, that's the perfect topping for this casserole. I do like to make sure the casserole is adequately seasoned though, so I always add some cayenne pepper and garlic to the soup mixture.
I always used canned asparagus for my casserole, but I still pick through all the pieces to make sure none of them are shucky. I also use a little milk, sour cream and maybe cream of asparagus soup, if I can find it. It's getting increasingly harder to find these days. Cream of celery works pretty well, too.
I also usually mix low-sodium chicken bullion powder in the soup, along with seasonings, a little salt and lots of black pepper. Then it's just a matter of getting a topping. I like panko crumbs mixed with olive oil and parmesan cheese. They get really brown and they don't get soggy. They stay really crunchy.
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