England's asparagus season, which usually starts on April 23, kicked off earlier this year thanks to that recent burst of spring sunshine. Few things beat fresh asparagus, which is packed with nutrients and low in calories. In Italy we mostly serve it boiled or steamed with a drizzle of oil, salt and vinegar or lemon. Italians eat green asparagus widely, but the white version - rare in the UK, but delicious - is popular in the north. This recipe works well with either.
Time: 40 mins
Serves 4 as a starter
● 1kg asparagus (white or green)
● 30g butter
● 30g plain flour
● 400ml milk
● Pinch ground nutmeg
● 2 egg yolks
● 100g mozzarella cheese, finely diced (optional)
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
● 4tbsp grated parmesan
● Wash the asparagus and snap off the woody ends.
● Lightly peel the hard stalk of each asparagus, easiest with a potato peeler, by holding and turning it by the tip.
● Cook the asparagus for up to 5 minutes in lightly salted boiling water until tender. Gently drain with a slotted spoon.
● To prepare the bechamel sauce: melt the butter and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Stir over a low heat until you form a ball (a "roux"). In a separate pan, heat the milk until it almost boils. Gradually pour the hot milk onto the roux, and whisk constantly, until it is smooth. Bring slowly to the boil and cook on a low flame for a minute, stirring frequently. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
● TIP: If your bechamel is too thick, add milk; if too liquid, add a little flour to thicken.
● Remove from the heat and add the two yolks. Mix well and cover until ready to use. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
● Lightly butter an oven dish about 20x25 cm (8x10in). Line the dish with half the asparagus. Add half the bechamel and half of the mozzarella and
1 tbsp of parmesan.
● Layer on the rest of the asparagus, the remaining bechamel, mozzarella and parmesan. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Switch to the grill for the last minute or two to brown. Serve hot.