This is lighter than a traditional meat lasagne.
600ml (UK 1 pint/USA 1.2 pints) whole milk
½ tsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Few blades of mace or a grating of fresh nutmeg
Large sprig of fresh thyme
60g (about 2 oz) butter
45g (about 5 level Tbsp) standard flour
½ tsp salt
500g (a generous 1 lb) fresh or dried lasagna squares or pasta for lasagne
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ cup basil pesto
Bunch of asparagus
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Put milk in a saucepan with peppercorns, bay leaves, mace and thyme. Heat until quite hot (don’t let it boil, but it should be hot to the little finger), then cover and set aside to let the flavourings infuse the milk. When cool, proceed with recipe.
2 In a clean saucepan melt butter, take off the heat and add flour. Blend in strained milk one-third at a time. Return saucepan to the heat and stir until boiling.
3 Reduce the heat and stir constantly for a minute or two, then add salt. Cover with a lid to prevent a skin from forming and use as required.
1 Bring a large pan of water to the boil; choose a wide pan rather than a tall one. Salt generously and add a splash of oil to stop the water from boiling over. Drop in 5-6 pieces of pasta at a time, one by one. Let pasta float to the top and cook until supple (a matter of seconds for freshly-made pasta, or up to 5 minutes, depending on the dryness of the pasta; and according to packet instructions if using dried pasta). Remove pasta with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl of cool water, ensuring it doesn’t stick together.
2 When all of this batch of pasta is cooked, remove pasta from bowl of water and spread on paper towels. Cook remaining pasta.
3 Generously butter a rectangular dish approx 21cm x 21cm long and 5cm deep. Put a layer of pasta in dish cutting it to fit if necessary (easily done with scissors). Spread over a little béchamel sauce, then streak a little pesto through the béchamel. Finish with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
4 Continue layering up, using all the ingredients, ending with a layer of pasta spread with béchamel sauce and pesto. Top with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
5 Bake for about 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 200°C (400°F) or until well browned on top and bubbling around the edges. Let lasagne stand for 5 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and lift out with a fish slice. Serve with asparagus.
1 Trim asparagus. Plunge into a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook for 1-2 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into a bowl of icy cold water. Remove from water when cool and pat dry with paper towels. Cut asparagus lengthways, then into short lengths.
2 When ready to finish off, heat a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan (skillet) over medium heat. Let the butter froth and sizzle, then foam, then turn a light nut brown colour. Add prepared asparagus and toss in the butter. Season with black pepper and a little sea salt, then serve alongside the lasagne and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
In my opinion, (an opinion shared by the Italian cooks I know) Italian dried pasta should be blanched before assembling lasagne; there’s nothing worse than leathery sheets of pasta, or gummy lasagne. If using fresh pasta, which is more authentic, blanch each square briefly, probably for less than a minute; the fresher it is, the shorter cooking time required. I add a slick of oil to the water when cooking pasta for lasagna to prevent it frothing over. Oil is not normally required because you cook one batch of pasta, drain it and serve, but pasta squares for lasagna are usually cooked in batches and the starch in the water builds up and forms more froth.
Would I use the pasta I chose for the photograph the next time I make this dish? Nope. The packet said cook for 4 minutes. In fact I cooked it for 8 minutes and it could have had even longer.