It is spring and the sun is shining practically daily and that is strange and wonderful after such a long cold winter as we've had. It is asparagus season and we have been eating it joyfully and mostly simply, just lightly steamed with a little melted butter and some cracked black pepper for a few weeks. I could happily continute to eat it like this for months.
Then I came across this recipe for lasagne and was instantly smitten. Not just because matching crisp asparagus with silky pasta is a kind of genius when you add cheese sauce, but because the sauce was made with chicken stock rather than milk and so has both greater depth of flavour and is lighter and more delicate at the same time. I used rocchetta for it's balanced rich creaminess but any spring like cheese would work a treat.
You could serve a salad after but it needs no accompaniment at all apart from a little crusty bread to guarantee that you mop up every skerrick of sauce.
The recipe comes from Jane Lear's blog and is an adaptation of an earlier version on Gourmet. She uses goat's cheese which would also be great, though not round ours as the man is not a fan.
1kg asparagus, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
60g unsalted butter
2 tbspns plain flour
400ml chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup water
200g rocchetta or other soft cheese, softened to room temperature and crumbled
About 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
About 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyère, plus a handful for topping
1 box no-boil lasagne sheets, the best quality you can find
200ml double cream
1. Preheat the oven to Gas6/500ºF. Cut off the tips of the asparagus spears and set them aside. In a large bowl toss the asparagus spears with the olive oil, and spread them onto a rimmed baking sheet. Roast them 5 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness), stirring them around halfway through, until they are crisp-tender. Season the roasted asparagus with salt, and, when cool enough to deal with, cut the spears into fork-friendly lengths, about ½ inch or so.
2. Melt the butter in a medium pot, add the flour, and cook over moderately low heat, whisking, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock and water and simmer 5 minutes. Whisk in the crumbled cheese and lemon zest and season with salt to taste; whisk the sauce until it is silky smooth.
3. Skim-coat the bottom of a buttered 20cm square baking dish with a little sauce, then make layers of pasta sheets, sauce, roasted asparagus, and Parmigiano, ending with a layer of pasta. Scatter the uncooked asparagus tips on top. In a bowl beat the cream with a pinch of salt until it holds soft peaks, and spread it over the asparagus tips. Scatter that handful of Parmesan over the whipped cream and bake the lasagne on the middle rack of the oven about 30 minutes, or until it’s bubbling around the edges and golden on top. Let it stand 10 minutes to collect itself, then cut into slices and serve.