Here in the 21st century, most produce is available year-round — even if it needs to come to us from afar. But we happen to be in the midst of asparagus season, when the toothsome veggie is at its absolute best: local, fresh and delicious.
Typically, asparagus is cast as a scene-stealing supporting actor. But this lasagna recipe, in which tender spears take the place of beef or pork, places it firmly at center stage (with compatible cheeses and fresh lemon zest in supporting roles). Broiling the asparagus, as we do here, really helps to concentrate the flavor.
The asparagus you choose should be firm and smooth, with tightly bound heads. At the store, you should find them arranged in bunches, standing straight up in a little bit of water. (It keeps them fresh.) At home, you’ll want to peel the stalks when they’re more than 1/3-inch thick, so they will cook evenly.
As for the pasta, we’ve kissed off traditional lasagna noodles in favor of wonton wrappers. These fresh Chinese pasta squares can be found in the refrigerated or frozen-food section of most supermarkets these days. Prepared with the same ingredients as fresh Italian pasta, they’re a terrific alternative to the traditional ingredient because wonton wrappers don’t need to be precooked, and they are thinner than “no-boil” lasagna sheets.
Also, when the squares are stacked between fillings, they form an easily served single portion — eliminating the usual struggle to carve individual portions out of a big pan of lasagna.
Serve with shredded sauteed carrots with crushed red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, or with peperonata — slow-cooked sweet bell peppers with onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes and capers.
- 2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pans
- 1¾ pounds asparagus, tough ends discarded and stalks peeled when thicker than 1/3 inch
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ cups finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2¾ cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 18 square wonton wrappers
- 10 ounces Italian fontina cheese, coarsely grated
Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler. Use a little oil to lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet and a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan or jellyroll pan.
Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on the baking sheet; drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over it and toss to coat, then season it lightly with salt and pepper.
Broil the asparagus for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan several times, until the edges just begin to brown. Let cool; reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Cook the onion in the remaining 1½ tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Transfer the onion mixture to a blender, along with the ricotta, flour, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Remove the center knob of the blender lid (so steam can escape); puree until fairly smooth.
Cut the cooled asparagus in half crosswise.
Arrange 6 wonton wrappers on the bottom of the lasagna pan, leaving a little space between each one. Arrange half the asparagus on top of the wrappers and top the asparagus with one-third of the ricotta mixture, spreading it evenly, and one-third of the fontina. Put another wonton wrapper on top of each mound (edges lined up or turned to create a diamond shape), and top with the remaining asparagus, half of the remaining ricotta mixture and half of the fontina.
Finally, top with the remaining wonton wrappers, ricotta mixture and fontina. (You can also split the remaining asparagus to create a third layer.)
Roast (upper rack) for about 20 minutes, or until the fontina has melted and the wontons wrappers are golden brown at the edges.
Increase the temperature to broil (with the pan still in the oven); broil the lasagnas for 1 minute, or just until nicely browned on top. Serve right away.
TIP: You can broil the asparagus and prepare the cheese mixture a day or two in advance, then layer them with the wonton wrappers right before you pop the lasagnas in the oven.