Plan ahead as the béchamel is made from asparagus stock that you need to prepare first. (If you don’t want to make asparagus sauce, use 3 cups milk, rather than 2 cups.) You can assemble this a day or two before you bake it; wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until time to bake.
2 pounds asparagus
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
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2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon unsalted butter), plus 1 tablespoon olive oil for drizzling, optional
2 tablespoons minced shallot or onion
2 tablespoons sifted flour
2 cups milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
4 ounces Parmesan, grated (1 cup), divided
½ cups finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon, chives
½ pound (more or less) no-boil lasagna noodles
1. To prepare asparagus stock and asparagus: Trim the asparagus by breaking off the woody ends. Place the trimmings and the garlic in a medium saucepan and add 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Discard stems and garlic; reserve liquid.
2. Fill a bowl with ice and water. Bring the saucepan of cooking liquid back to a boil and add the asparagus stalks. Blanch until tender but not mushy. Thick asparagus stalks will take four to five minutes, medium and thin asparagus about three minutes. Transfer, using tongs, to the bowl of ice water. Do not discard the cooking water.
3. Cool asparagus, then drain it and dry it on a clean dish towel. If the asparagus stalks are thick, cut in half lengthwise first, then cut all the asparagus into ¾ -inch lengths. Set aside.
4. To make béchamel sauce: Heat oil (or oil and butter) over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add shallot or onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, until smooth and bubbling, but not browned, about three minutes. Whisk in the milk and 1 cup asparagus stock (the reserved cooking liquid) all at once and bring to a simmer. Whisking all the while, simmer until the mixture begins to thicken. Turn heat to very low and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping bottom and edges of pan with a heatproof spatula, until sauce is thick and has lost its raw flour taste, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Strain while hot into a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Stir in ¼ cup Parmesan and the fresh herbs.
5. To assemble the lasagna: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter a rectangular baking dish that has a capacity of at least 2 quarts. Spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) béchamel over the bottom. Top with layer of lasagna noodles. Add asparagus to remaining béchamel. Spoon about 1/3 cup béchamel over the noodles. Sprinkle with about 1/3 cup Parmesan.
6. Repeat layers in pan, ending with a layer of lasagna noodles topped with béchamel and Parmesan. Make sure the noodles are well coated with béchamel so they will be sure to soften during baking. If desired, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top.
7. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil (it’s important to crimp the foil tightly against pan edges so the dish is sealed and the lasagna noodles steam and don’t dry out). Bake until noodles are tender and the mixture is bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover and, if you wish, bake until the top begins to brown, another five to 10 minutes, but make sure that the noodles are completely covered with béchamel. Remove from heat and allow to sit for five minutes before serving.
— Adapted by (Minneapolis) Star Tribune from “The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking,” by Martha Rose Shulman.