Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

81 Comments

There an adorable young Italian woman whose blog I follow. Her name is Alida, she was born in Friuli in North Eastern Italy, and her blog is My Little Italian Kitchen.

I follow her on Facebook as well, because her daily food photos make me happy. Like these. So colorful and enticing!

Although now living in London, Alida travels often throughout Italy, visiting artisanal bakers and cheese makers, and has also won cooking competitions. Let’s just say she knows what she’s doing, and is passionate about Italian food.

To quote Alida, “Cooking is an expression of who you are and your personality. You have to put your whole self into it: your passion, feeling and experiences all go into the food and you become part of the recipe.”

In the spring of 2017, Alida posted a recipe for Asparagus Ham Lasagna that I couldn’t ignore. “Traditional” lasagna is so wonderful, but I love other varieties as well, even meatless varieties. It’s my idea of comfort food.

Fresh pasta sheets, bechamel, a purée of asparagus, ham, asparagus pieces, and Parmesan, all layered and baked to perfect deliciousness! I can’t believe I’ve waited a year to make it. Plus, it was an excuse to finally use my Kitchen Aid pasta rolling attachment.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

Ingredients
fresh lasagne sheets – 400 g – about 15 sheets
fresh asparagus – 700 g – 6 cups
grated parmesan cheese – to sprinkle
ham – 240 g – 1 + 2/3 cup
olive oil
salt
butter – knob

For the bechamel sauce:
milk – 1,5 Liters – 1.58 qt
butter – 100 g – 1/2 cup
plain flour – 80 g – 3/4 cup
grated nutmeg – pinch
salt and pepper

The pasta dough I started with included 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together and gradually add flour until a dough forms. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Roll out the lasagna sheets to the desired thickness. They can be a little thicker than sheets you would use for making ravioli. I used #6 on my attachment.

Cut to 13″ lengths and set aside.

Clean and peel the asparagus if they are large. Remove the thicker ends and cut the tips off. Cut the asparagus in small pieces and cook them in salty water. I cooked the tips first just to keep it simple.

Whiz the stems into a purée and set aside.

Make the bechamel and set aside; I’ve included a link to my own in case you’ve never made it before.

Have the grated Parmesan and ham handy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

When you’re ready to prepare the lasagna, add some bechamel to the bottom of the baking dish and cover with a few lasagna sheets.

Add some asparagus purée, ham, cheese, and more sauce. Cover again with lasagna sheets.

Continue layering. On the top, make sure there is bechamel, ham, cheese, and the remaining asparagus.

Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.


Let the lasagna sit for about 30 minutes before cutting up the servings.

The lasagna actually sliced very well while it was still warm.

You can see the lovely layers on white sauce, ham, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips.

I sliced the asparagus tips lengthwise after they had cooked and cooled, because I felt they were quite thick.

I love traditional lasagna, but this is definitely second best! And in spite of the bechamel, this lasagna doesn’t seem as heavy as traditional, probably because the only meat is thinly shaved ham. I’ll definitely be making this again!

White Sauce

60 Comments

A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s made with milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream.

It was years before I dared make a white sauce; I assumed it was difficult for some reason. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one, but she didn’t have an immediate answer, because cooking came so naturally to her. She simply added a little of this, and a little of that while cooking, and only followed recipes when making something completely new.

But she made a white sauce, just for me, and sent me the recipe. Trust me, after making a white sauce one time, you’ll never need a recipe again.

White Sauce, or Bechamel

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)

Have all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long. All you need is a pot and whisk.

I like to use Wondra instead of regular white flour for sauces and gravies.

Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and immediately whisk it into the butter until smooth. This is called a roux. Some people make a roux that is almost like a paste, but I prefer mine slightly thinner.

Let the mixture bubble and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking often. The cooking supposedly keeps the sauce from having a “floury” taste, but I’ve never tested this theory.

With the whisk in one hand, pour in the milk with the other and begin gently whisking. Don’t add the milk gradually; pour it all in.

If the milk/cream is warm, the sauce will form sooner, but cold milk/cream works just as well.

Hold the pot now with one hand and gently whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too fast.

A few bubbles might form, but don’t let the sauce boil. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn and stick to the pot.

Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.

Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! What about adding fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder!

Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to a breakfast of goddesses – poached eggs with a white sauce.


A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk, to goat milk. However, the color of the sauce will change with the milk color.

It will turn into a cheesy white sauce if you add cheddar, fontina, or Parmesan to it. Any cheese works.

Besides salt and pepper, you can also add white pepper, dried herbs, nutmeg, cayenne, or just about anything you like.

Lastly, a browned butter white sauce is really flavorful, but keep in mind that the white sauce color will be brownish.

For a more scientific approach to making a white sauce, here is a link to Stefan’s white sauce on his blog, Stefan Gourmet.

Cabbage Bundles

28 Comments

This recipe for a lovely and tasty side dish is less about the cabbage, and way more about the filling. Over the years, I’ve made the bundles so many different ways, but today I’m using a creamy mixture of bacon, onions and mushrooms. I’ve also included leeks and peas before.

So try this out as an easy and pretty side dish, varying the filling ingredients to your liking. You can even make these a day ahead and reheat. That’s a handy thing to do when it’s holiday season.

Cabbage Bundles
inspired by this recipe on Epicurious here

1 large green cabbage
6 thick slices of bacon, diced
2 onions, thinly sliced
12 ounces sliced mushrooms
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
White sauce, approximately 1 1/2 cups

Core the cabbage, then place the whole cabbage in a large pot.


Add enough water to cover. Add a little salt, then bring the water to a boil. Cook the cabbage in the water for at least 7 minutes. Remove the cabbage to a colander and let it drain upside down.
cabbb
If you feel you’ve overcooked the cabbage, place it in ice water immediately for a minute, then let it drain.

When the cabbage has cooled off, peel off the outer leaves and let them dry; set aside.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until fully cooked, but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate; set aside.


Pour off some of the bacon grease if there’s too much in the skillet. But save it, of course.

Reduce the heat slightly, then add the onions and sauté them for about 5 minutes. You want them soft and only slightly caramelized.

Remove the onions to a bowl, then add a little more bacon grease or olive oil as needed, and sauté the mushrooms. Towards the end when they’re almost fully sautéed, add salt and seasoning like garlic pepper.

Just for fun, I added a little cognac to the mushrooms and flamed them for a minute. This step adds a little flavor, but it not necessary.
cab99

Drain the mushrooms to get that wonderful mushroom jus, then combine the mushrooms and onions in a large bowl. Add the thyme. Save the jus for when you make the white sauce, if you like.

Add the white sauce and bacon to the cooled-off onions and mushrooms, then stir to combine gently. There’s your filling. It can be refrigerated overnight, if necessary.

To make the bundles, begin by lightly greasing a baking dish. Lay one cabbage leaf flat on your work surface, and top with filling. Don’t go overboard with the filling, or else it will all ooze out. Just a nice amount, that still allows you to comfortably roll and tuck the cabbage leaf around the filling. Also first trim off any really tough leaf ends before rolling.


Place the bundles smooth side up in the baking dish. Repeat.

Just before you want to serve, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a little olive oil over the top of the bundles, and bake just until there’s a little color on the cabbage, or about 20 minutes. If you want more color, you can always slide the baking dish under the broiler for a minute.


Serve immediately.
cab22
Alternatively, these can be baked one day, refrigerated, and then reheated on another day. They stay intact pretty well if you haven’t overfilled them!
cab44
If you want a pretty decadent side dish, toss a little grated Parmesan on the bundles before the browning and heating step.
cab33

These were delicious with pork loin, but would be equally wonderful with grilled white fish or roasted chicken.