A springtime family favorite Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin recipe that’s perfect for using leftover Easter Ham!
Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin layered-style casserole made with cheesy Monterey Jack Cheese sauce is a comfort-food favorite around our house. With its great taste, few ingredients and easy instructions for making it, it may become a favorite springtime meal at your home too!
I discovered this recipe for Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin over 40 years ago in an ideals All-Holidays Cookbook. The magazine-style cookbook was given to me by my aunt when I was newly married.
Back then, as a new bride, I was always looking for ways to impress my new in-laws with my cooking ability, especially around holiday times when we’d get together.
My aunt came to my recipe aid often – sending recipes she thought I’d like from newspapers collected from where she and my uncle lived, or at other times sharing pages saved from issues of the Family Circle or Good Housekeeping magazines. And then, over several years, she sent me a handful of the ideals Magazine cookbooks as gifts around Christmas time. I still treasure each recipe I got and the cookbooks today.
The way that the ideals All-Holiday Cookbook suggested to make this recipe was to use 1/4”-inch slices of ham, filled with the cheese and rice mixture and asparagus, then rolling it all up before placing each roll in a shallow casserole dish. After the rolls filled the baking dish, a cheese sauce made from process Swiss cheese blankets the top. The final step includes sprinkling with parmesan cheese before baking for a quick 25 to 30 minutes.
While that method did impress both my in-laws and others that I’d made it for, over the years, as my schedule became busier, I decided that rolling the rice and asparagus in the ham took way too much time.
That’s when I created the shortcut version that you’ll find in my recipe version below. I’ve used this shortcut method many times since, in fact, most times, for whenever I’ve wanted to make this springtime casserole dish.
In the years since shortcutting the prep method, I’ve also changed the cheese I use from Swiss cheese to Monterey Jack Cheese. I’ve found that Monterey Jack Cheese works equally well, and it’s also been a little more popular with my kid’s taste buds.
These days, since my schedule is a bit saner and our children have now grown...
Whenever company visits in springtime, or when celebrating a holiday and I’m wanting to impress my guests – I’ll decide to take the time to make Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin rolled up and fancy for presenting in regal fashion. It’s then that I dollop the cheesy rice mixture onto the ham, add the fresh-cooked asparagus spears, then roll everything up before putting the filled rolls into the casserole dish, covering them with the remaining cheesy sauce and the parmesan, then baking.
The pictures below show the recipe as it’s made step-by-step.
Picture the recipe step-by-step...
I hope you’ll make this recipe for Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin. Make it with layered ingredients or roll them all up, presenting them fancy. Make the casserole both ways, especially when fresh-to-market asparagus is less expensive and readily available in the springtime.
Let me know what your favorite way to make it is in the comments below – whether you’ve rolled it up or layered them ingredient style if you fixed it with Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese. Tell me; I love getting your feedback. It means a lot. ♥
P.S. If you like food history, you might be interested in...
The fascinating part about Monterey Jack Cheese is how it came to be known and named after the ruthlessly corrupt landowner, David Jack.
To fully understand this tragic tale, picture yourself in Monterey Bay, California. The year is 1770. It’s one year after the first California Catholic mission in present-day San Diego was founded.
The missionaries there not only brought their religion to this unknown part of the world, but their foods as well, including grapes, olives, and cattle. The cattle were a great resource because not only did they provide meat and fresh milk, but the milk was also used to produce a soft, white cheese, the missionaries called Queso Blanco Pais.
Now, fast forward several decades to the year 1846, when under Spanish and Mexican rule, the control of California changed hands. Mexico and the United States went to war, a war that ended in a resounding United States victory.
The warring nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, and, as a condition, Mexico sold California to the US at a bargain-basement price of 15 million dollars (a bit over $400 million today).
With the establishment of the new territory, Americans came pouring into California. Some came looking for gold, others came looking for land, and those who came also began looking for power and fortune.
In the treaty, the US promised to uphold Mexico’s rancho system. Still, federal government-established commissions found loopholes and ways to undermine Mexican farmers – like demanding long-forgotten paperwork and attendance at far away hearings. Many Mexicans lost their beloved farms to people like David Jack.
David Jack, originally from Scotland living then in New York, first arrived in California in 1849. But before he left New York, he invested his total savings of $1,400 in revolvers, which he intended to sell to “law-abiding and lawless alike,” thinking that both would pay a handsome price for such items at that time in Californian history.
Jack arrived in San Francisco in April 1849, where he sold his entire investment for $4,000 in the first 48 hours, making a 286% profit in the process. He immediately made his way to the gold mines but found little success. Returning to San Francisco, Jack gained employment as an Inspector in the Custom House, earning $100 a month and putting his capital of $4,000 to good use. He lent portions of it at an interest of 2% a month ( a ridiculously steep rate of interest, back then).
After a brief trip back to Scotland, Jack returned to California settling in Monterey in 1857, where he befriended attorney Delos R. Ashley, who had been hired by the town of Monterey to legitimize their land claims to the United States Land Claims Commission. Two years later, Ashley won the case but demanded nearly one thousand dollars in attorney fees, and the town couldn’t pay.
Later, Monterey and Ashley reached an agreement – Monterey would auction off the very lands that Ashley defended to help pay his fees. On February 9th, 1859, a rapidly-called auction took place with only two bidders, you guessed it, Mr. Ashley and David Jack.
Nearly all of Monterey’s 30,000 acres of land sold to the two men – The price they paid: $1000.02. Locals eventually came to call this auction the “Rape of Monterey.”
Jack stayed on in Monterey, working to maximize his profits. He was ruthless and became known for charging obscene taxes to renters and foreclosing on properties, sometimes posting notices in English to intentionally confuse the Spanish-speaking farm owners.
On Jack’s land, there were cattle ranches, vineyards, and a dairy on the Salinas River. It was there that Jack produced the cheese that its origins trace back to the Spanish Franciscan fathers who came north to California from Mexico during the early days of the missions.
Although a controversial figure, as far as anyone knows, Jack broke no laws. He eventually had a partnership in 14 dairies throughout Monterey, with Spanish and Portuguese dairymen. Together they dominated Northern Californian dairy farming.
During his time in Monterey, Jack suffered from the same problems of surplus milk that the Spanish Franciscan fathers before him had, and similarly, he solved the problem by producing his cheese. Realizing the commercial value of Jack cheese, he began selling it throughout Monterey and California with his name “Jack’s Cheese” on it. Soon, the cheese became so popular that people were eating it all across California—all of them asking for “Monterey Jack’s Cheese.” Today you can find it all over the world.
Asparagus & Ham Au Gratin
- 8 x 12-inch shallow oven-proof Baking Pan
- Deep skillet or Saucepan
- 1 1/3 cup quick-cooking rice cooked according to package directions
- 3 tablespoons Butter
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free All-Purpose Flour
- ¾ teaspoon Salt
- 2 cups Milk
- 1 dash Ground Nutmeg
- 1 cup Monterey Jack Cheese shredded 
- 16- ounces fully cooked Ham cubed
- 24 to 32 slender Asparagus spears steamed or boiled and drained
- ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese shredded
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter or spray the bottom and sides of an 8 x 12-inch shallow oven-proof baking pan, set aside.
- Melt the butter in a deep skillet, blend in the flour and salt with a whisk. Add the milk and nutmeg, continually stirring until cooked and thickened, approximately one to two minutes. Add the Monterey Jack cheese and stir until melted.
- Blend one cup of the cheese sauce into the cooked rice. Spread the mixture evenly into the bottom of the baking pan. Top the rice mixture with the cubed Ham and arrange the asparagus across the top.  Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the asparagus.
- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350ºF until hot, about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges become slightly browned and bubbly. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Serve and enjoy!
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(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)