Grilled asparagus on sourdough with Comté and pickles

Grilled asparagus on sourdough with Comté and pickles

By
From
The Tivoli Road Baker
Serves
6
Photographer
Bonnie Savage and Alan Benson

I’m always excited to see asparagus at the market. Along with broad beans, asparagus is one of the first signs of spring after the cold of winter. Here we combine asparagus with one of my all-time favourite cheeses, Comté.

A rich béchamel and quick pickle bring it all together, making this dish a pleasure to eat. It’s perfect for a light lunch or supper.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

Pickled shallots

Quantity Ingredient
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
250ml white-wine vinegar
100g sugar

Béchamel

Quantity Ingredient
50g butter
50g plain (all-purpose) flour
500g full-cream (whole) milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 nutmeg, grated
salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Assembly

Quantity Ingredient
2–3 bunches of asparagus (we use around 5 spears per serve, depending on thickness)
20 ml + 100 ml olive oil
6 thick slices of sourdough
60g comté, grated
50g sunflower seeds
2 sprigs oregano, leaves picked
2 sprigs bronze fennel, fronds picked
1/2 lemon, for juice
salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Method

  1. To pickle the shallots, put them in a heatproof bowl. Put the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over a high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the liquor over the shallots and set aside to cool. They’re ready once the liquor is completely cool.
  2. Next, make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat, then add the flour and stir over the heat for a couple of minutes until it forms a thick, sandy coloured paste. Gradually whisk in the milk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil. Remove from the heat, add the mustard and nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside in the fridge to cool.
  3. Preheat your grill (broiler) to a medium–high heat, and preheat a griddle pan over a high heat – you want it hot and smoking. Toss the asparagus well in 20 ml (¾ floz) of the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the asparagus over the griddle pan for a minute, then gently move them around to spread the heat for another minute. You want them lightly coloured but still a bit undercooked, as you are going to apply more heat under the grill once you’ve assembled your open sandwiches.
  4. While the griddle pan is still hot, brush your bread slices with the remaining olive oil and place them on the pan. Toast for 1–2 minutes on each side until the slices are warm and lightly charred.
  5. Drain the shallots well. To assemble your open sandwiches, lay the toasted slices of bread on two trays lined with baking paper. Spread each slice with a generous amount of béchamel and top with the grilled asparagus spears. Sprinkle the grated Comté over the top, and grill for 4–5 minutes until the cheese is melted and just starting to colour. Finish with slices of pickled shallot, a sprinkling of sunflower seeds, the herbs and a few drops of lemon juice. Season to taste and eat immediately.

BAKERY NOTES

  • The pickled shallots are zingy and fresh the day they’re made. The pickle will continue to develop flavour, and certainly won’t go off if you keep it for a few days, but I like to eat it fresh. Keep the left-over pickling liquor to use again – just strain it into a clean jar and store it in the fridge, ready to use for your next batch.

    I love Comté, but there are lots of other cheeses that would work here. Any gruyère, cheddar, blue or a hard goat’s milk cheese would also be delicious.

    We use bronze fennel at the bakery, but if this is unavailable, green fennel or any other small leaves would be just as lovely.
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