Under most circumstances, I am strictly of the belief that fresh, springtime asparagus needs no embellishments—simple roasting is just right—but this case is an exception. Steamed to bright green and puréed to velvet, baked with milk, eggs, and little more, asparagus gets dressed up, but it somehow tastes simple, intense, even more like itself: clean, delicate, and verdant. It melts seamlessly into a light custard, morphing into a smooth, silky thing that slices under the knife like softened butter. It goes down easy enough for a sweet shiver and a sigh, easy enough to step up—if only while the season lasts—as my favorite four-letter word. F L A N!
According to the original recipe, (In Gourmet Magazine in 2004), this Italian-inspired flan is to be served with a rich, creamy Fontina sauce. I found, however, that so much cheese quickly overshadowed the flavor of the asparagus—a near-perfect thing that, quite frankly, shouldn’t be messed with.
I prefer this flan sans sauce, served as a light lunch with, say, a pile of roasted fennel and potatoes. If you can find decent Roma tomatoes—in season or not—and slow-roast them, they would also be a perfect, sweet-tart side. This flan would also be an elegant accompaniment to a festive springtime supper of roasted lamb or chicken, or a few slices of grilled flank steak.
How To Video:
- 2 lb asparagus, trimmed
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Perpare a 8- by 2-inch round cake pan and spray with nonstick.
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and, if they’re thick, peel them. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely. Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for 25 minutes, until tender but still crisp. The roasting process softens up the asparagus as well as adding flavor.
Cool roasted asparagus for about 20 minutes, then proceed on to the next step.
Purée asparagus in a food processor until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Run the mixture through a sieve – and strain down to make smoother. (takes some time – but TOTALLY worth it texture wise in the final product) You’ll get around a cup and a half of puree.
Whisk together eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, then whisk in asparagus purée.
Pour asparagus mixture into pan and bake in a hot water bath until flan is set and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Transfer pan to a rack to cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.