This is an excellent way to turn 8 oz (225 g) of asparagus stalks into a substantial supper dish for two people. Vegetarians might like to know that a vegetarian parmesan-style cheese is available from www.bookhamcheese.co.uk
This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection and Delia's Vegetarian Collection.
5 oz (150 g) rigatoni
8 oz (225 g) asparagus (prepared weight)
10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
¾ oz (20 g) plain flour
¾ oz (20 g) butter
a grating of fresh nutmeg
1½ oz (40 g) Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), finely grated (see recipe introduction)
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb (450 g) ripe red tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1½ oz (40 g) Pecorino cheese, pared into shavings with a potato peeler
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).
You will also need an ovenproof gratin dish 7 x 7 x 2 inches (18 x 18 x 5 cm), lightly buttered.
First of all place the milk, flour and butter in a saucepan and whisk together over a gentle heat until the sauce begins to simmer and thicken. Then season with salt and pepper and a good grating of nutmeg.
After that turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let the sauce cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the grated Parmesan, remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave on one side while you prepare the other ingredients.
Prepare the asparagus by cutting the stalks diagonally into pieces roughly the same size as the rigatoni. Then take a 9 inch (23 cm) frying pan, heat up the oil in it and sauté the asparagus pieces for about 5 minutes, tossing them around the pan and keeping the heat fairly high so that they colour at the edges. Then add the tomatoes to the pan, and let them bubble and reduce for about 1 minute.
Then turn the heat off.
Next cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water for 6 minutes only; then drain it in a colander.
Return it to the saucepan, add the sauce and the asparagus mixture and mix thoroughly. Taste to check the seasoning, pour the whole lot into the gratin dish, sprinkle with the shavings of Pecorino cheese and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes.