I’m generally a fan of lightly cooked vegetables instead of soft ones, particularly in spring, but there are exceptions. This dish is one of those exceptions. The flavors meld together beautifully, especially as they absorb butter and cream.
The most common gratin is a potato one: layers of potatoes absorbing cream and onion and flavor, mixing with melted cheese, and getting nicely golden on top. There’s a lot of appeal in this, but the potato isn’t doing much to add flavor. Improvising gratins from other vegetables makes for a more flavorful and nutritious dish.
For this gratin, I used some of my favorite summer vegetables: asparagus, peas, small spring onions, and a few morel mushrooms. With a lot of butter, some cream, some sheep’s milk cheese or gruyere (or whatever you have on hand) and parmesan on top, it’s extraordinary. Serve it plain, with a poached egg, with a salad or chilled soup, or as a side to grilled or roasted meat.
Spring Vegetable Gratin with Poached Egg
Proportions are per person — make this in individual pans or as a larger gratin
- butter for cooking (plenty!)
- 1/4-1/3 lb fresh asparagus
- 1/4 cup fresh peas (frozen are ok)
- 4-5 morels
- 2 small spring onions or 1 medium/small one
- about 1/4 cup cream
- a few ounces of cheese, like sheep’s milk or gruyere
- parmesan, salt
- small amount of chopped Italian parsley (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F
1. Chop all vegetables finely, and thinly slice cheese.
2. In a small oven-safe pan, sauté onions in butter, with a bit of salt, until soft and clear. Add morels, optional parsley, and more butter until morels cook through.
3. Add asparagus and stir. Wait one minute and add peas. Stir and turn off the heat.
4. Pour in just enough cream to almost, but not quite, cover. The top layer of vegetables should be sticking out. Gently fold in sliced or crumbled cheese. Grate parmesan on top.
5. Cook 30 minutes at 400F
6. When almost done (top is golden/brown when done), poach an egg to serve on top. Bring water to simmer in a small pot. Add a dash of vinegar. Add in cracked egg (some people pre-crack it in a bowl) and do not touch while it cooks. After a minute or so, gently scoop it out with a slotted spatula or spoon. Place on top of the gratin and serve.