Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

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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!

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e Pepe is an Italian pasta dish that translates to cheese and pepper. It’s a long-time standard of Roman cuisine.

Recently my daughter asked if I’d ever made it, and I never have. As much as I love and respect the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes, this one probably never intrigued me enough because of the lack of “goodies” in it, like a little Prosciutto, or smoked salmon.

But I decided it was about time to make Cacio e Pepe and embrace the perfection that is a traditional pasta dish.

When I started researching the recipe online, it was like opening up an Italian Pandora’s box. There were so many criticisms of recipes, techniques, and so forth. I’ve always found that the Italians are the most passionate about their traditional recipes remaining traditional.

I personally don’t mind variations on the original, but nonetheless I closed the box and decided on the recipe I would use. The important goal of making Cacio e Pepe is a creaminess that is created without using butter or cream.
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Here’s what I did.

First I grated 8 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese and set aside.

Then I place a large pot full of salted water on the stove over high heat. I chose basic spaghetti, 16 ounces, for my pasta.
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When the water boiled, I added the pasta and timed 9-10 minutes.
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After the pasta was cooked, I poured some of the pasta water in a bowl, drained the pasta, and returned the pasta to the pot. I had a stirring spoon on hand, and immediate added some of the pasta water to the pot, stirring gently.

I then added about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper and the grated cheese, along with more pasta water as needed. Vigorous stirring was necessary to create a creaminess and incorporate the cheese.


Serve immediately, preferably in warmed pasta bowls.
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I added more coarsely-ground pepper.
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This dish is so much about the pepper!

I can now understand why this simple pasta dish has endured for centuries. I’ve always loved and respected the simplicity of many Italian dishes, but I think this one takes the cake.
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However, as wonderfu as Cacio e Pepe is, tomorrow I’m adding some Prosciutto or smoked salmon.