Fresh Asparagus Makes Baked Pasta Special

Baked pasta is a great alternative to the standard spaghetti or tortellini, but adding fresh spring vegetables to it makes it even better.

Baked pastas are one of my favorite meals. They're easy to make, different from the standard pasta dishes and always delicious. Tortellini is one of my favorite pastas to use in these casseroles because instead of flat pastas covered in sauces, you have little pillows filled with meats or cheeses -- an added bonus to an already delicious dinner option. I usually make my casseroles with a cheesy sauce, some breadcrumbs and occasionally a chopped vegetable. I'd never tried asparagus before because I'm not a big fan of the vegetable. But Mario Batali suggested this addition along with his thick bechamel sauce so I had to give it a try. I'm so glad I did because adding them to the tortellini turned the dish into a delicious, healthy addition I never would have considered.

Tortellini and asparagus casserole

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 cups grana padano cheese, shredded
  • 1 (20 ounce) package tortellini
  • 1 cup chopped asparagus
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Cook the tortellini according to package directions; drain and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth and cook for five minutes.
  4. Slowly whisk the milk and cheese into the butter mixture until incorporated and smooth. Continue to cook for another minute or two until thick. Remove from heat, add the salt and nutmeg.
  5. Mix together the cooked tortellini, cheese sauce and asparagus in a large bowl until the pasta and asparagus are coated. Pour into a 3-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese bubbles. Let cool for 10 minutes and serve.

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