2 pounds asparagus
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt, as needed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or 1 olive oil and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter), plus 1 tablespoon olive oil for optional drizzling
2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion
2 tablespoons sifted flour
2 cups milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 ounces Parmesan, grated (1 cup), divided
1/2 cups finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon and chives
1/2 pound (more or less) no-boil lasagna noodles
To prepare asparagus stock and asparagus, trim the asparagus by breaking off woody ends. Place trimmings and the garlic in a medium saucepan and add 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of the salt, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Discard stems and garlic; reserve liquid.
Fill a bowl with ice and water. Bring saucepan of cooking liquid back to a boil and add asparagus stalks. Blanch until tender but not mushy. Thick asparagus stalks will take 4 to 5 minutes, medium and thin asparagus about 3 minutes. Transfer, using tongs, to bowl of ice water. Do not discard cooking water.
Cool asparagus, then drain it and dry it on a clean dish towel. If asparagus stalks are thick, cut in half lengthwise first, then cut all asparagus into 3/4-inch lengths. Set aside.
To make bechamel sauce, heat the oil (or oil and butter) over medium heat in a heavy, medium saucepan. Add the shallot or onion and cook, stirring, until softened, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until smooth and bubbling, but not browned, for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and 1 cup asparagus stock (reserved cooking liquid) all at once and bring to a simmer. Whisking continuously, simmer until mixture begins to thicken. Turn heat to very low and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping bottom and edges of pan with a heatproof spatula, until sauce is thick and has lost its raw flour taste, for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Strain while hot into a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and the fresh herbs.
To assemble lasagna, heat oven to 350 F. Oil or butter a rectangular baking dish that has a capacity of at least 2 quarts. Spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) bechamel over bottom. Top with layer of the lasagna noodles. Add asparagus to remaining bechamel. Spoon about 1/3 cup bechamel over noodles. Sprinkle with about 1/3 cup Parmesan.
Repeat layers in pan, ending with a layer of lasagna noodles topped with bechamel and Parmesan. Make sure noodles are well-coated with bechamel so they will be sure to soften during baking. If desired, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over top.
Cover baking dish tightly with foil (crimp foil tightly against pan edges so dish is sealed and lasagna noodles steam and don't dry out). Bake in preheated oven until noodles are tender and mixture is bubbling, for 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover and, if you wish, bake until top begins to brown, for another 5 to 10 minutes, but make sure that noodles are completely covered with bechamel. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.
— Recipe from "The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking," by Martha Rose Shulman
Lasagna With Asparagus and Herbs
2 pounds asparagus