In Asparagus and the Immortality of the Soul, Achille Campanile writes: “These can generally be considered agreeable things. Indeed, nothing would remain of us if the soul were not immortal, and this would be very disagreeable. The pleasantness of asparagus is something else entirely, they are pleasing to the palate”.
Asparagus was grown in the Oltrepò mantovano by monks from Polirone Monastry, as evidenced by the presence of a notably large rectangular sparagiaia in a 16th century map of the Abbey. The plot was marked differently from the other gardens, which indicates the importance that the asparagus had for the monks. Cultivation has always been rather difficult, the plant has a three-step cycle: the cultivation step, the crop is limited to encourage strong vegetative growth for the first two years; the productive step, productivity grows by the third year before settling around the fourth year and remaining constant until around the tenth; a descending step, productivity decreases by the tenth year. Asparagus is low in sodium, has high calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium content, and has around 25 calories per 100 grams.
ASPARAGUS FESTIVAL The asparagus is a very flexible ingredient, and it is used in many different delicious dishes during gourmet events and workshops.
The best way of storing asparagus is by wrapping them in a damp cloth and keeping them in the fridge. This will help keep their flavour for up to four days. You can also put the stems in cold water, and change the water three or four times per day.
1 There are two types of root: the fleshy, cylindrical type can reach remarkable depths and serve as a reserve; the fibrous and thinner ones are absorbable.
2 Asparagus flowers are solitary, small and yellow-green. They later become small round, bright red berries which contain between three and six black, hard seeds.
3 The “meaty” bud is called the turion. It starts developing in late winter, when the temperature increases and the nutrients in the roots move to the shoots.
4 Before they sprout from the ground, they are white and stumpy with a rounded top. When they sprout, they change colour from pink to purple and then bright green as a result of photosynthesis.
To prepare the asparagus mixture that goes with the béchamel in the lasagna, we use the harder part of the asparagus which would otherwise be thrown away. This recipe is elegant yet humble, in the best culinary traditions of the Oltrepò mantovano.
INGREDIENTS 4 PEOPLE • 1 KG asparagus • 300 GR egg lasagna sheets • 1 shallot • Parmigiano Reggiano • salt • olive oil
INGREDIENTS FOR THE BÉCHAMEL • 600 ML milk • 100 GR flour • 1 a knob of butter • nutmeg
Wash the asparagus and cook them in boiling water for around 30 minutes. When they are cooked, spread them out on a chopping board and slice them into chunks. Put the tips to one side, we will use them at the end as a garnish. Fry the shallots with two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of butter. Add the chopped asparagus and cook for about half an hour over a medium-low heat.
When they are cooked, blend the cooked asparagus and reduce them to a soft paste. Prepare the béchamel: put the milk in a saucepan with a pinch of salt, nutmeg, a knob butter and warm it up. Gradually add the flour and mix it in. Take care not to let the milk boil. Raise the heat slightly and stir until it reaches the proper consistency. Add the asparagus and mix together. Fill a baking dish with alternate layers of lasagna, béchamel with the asparagus, and Parmesan. Garnish with the asparagus tips. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake at 190 degrees for about 30 minutes.