Did you know that asparagus is a member of the lily family that can be dated back to Roman times? 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your asparagus,' as Mark Antony was fond of saying every time Caesar ran out of the stuff. Anyway, British Asparagus is in season, so it would seem incredibly rude, not to mention unpatriotic, to ignore it. Asparagus is so beloved by the Brits that we throw it a party... The British Asparagus Festival.
For the pasta, I've gone with strozzapreti, partly because of the fun name, which means 'priest choker'. Legend has it that priests, generally seen as heavy eaters, loved it so much that they ate too quickly and choked themselves to death in the process. You could use pene, rigatoni or fusilli, if you can't get hold of strozzapreti. This dish makes an excellent supper for two. Catholic clergymen eating this should keep a glass of water nearby at all times, just in case... Not sure about Anglicans.
5 oz (150 g) Strozzapreti
8 oz (225 g) asparagus tips
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
3 oz (80 g) Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), half grated and half pared into shavings
10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
¾ oz (20 g) plain flour
¾ oz (20 g) butter
nutmeg, freshly grated
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1¼ lbs (550 g) ripe red tomatoes, skinned and chopped
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).
Begin by placing the milk, butter and flour into a saucepan. Whisk them together over a gentle heat until the sauce begins to simmer and thicken, then season with salt, pepper and a good grating of nutmeg. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let the sauce continue cooking for 3 minutes. Next, stir in the grated Parmesan and then remove the sauce from the heat. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and place some clingfilm over it to prevent a skin from forming.
Put the tomatoes into a bowl and pour boiling water over them until they are covered completely. Leave them for 2-3 minutes, drain, slip off their skins and chop them. Cut the asparagus diagonally into pieces roughly the same size as the strozzapreti.
Heat the olive oil in a 9 inch (23 cm) frying pan. Add the garlic and asparagus and sauté for about 5 minutes on a fairly high heat, making sure to keep them moving around the pan, until the asparagus colours slightly at the edges. Throw in the chopped tomatoes and cook for a further minute. Then remove from the heat.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water for the time specified on the packet (no more than 6 minutes). Drain it in a colander and then return it to the saucepan. Add the sauce and the asparagus mixture to the pasta and mix everything up thoroughly.
Finally, pour everything into a lightly-buttered 9 inch gratin dish, sprinkle over the Parmesan shavings and bake in the oven for 10 minutes, by which time it should be bubbling and slightly browned. Serve immediately.
Below: After coming out... all bubbly and golden.
Causes Gina Collia-Suzuki Supports
The World Wildlife Fund
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