Asparagus wrapped in ham and baked with cream and Parmesan

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a diminutive first course

Ingredients

20-25 medium asparagus spears, stalks trimmed and stems partially peeled
A scrap of butter
4 thin slices of cooked ham
300ml whipping cream
Freshly ground white pepper
2 heaped tbspn freshly grated
Parmesan

Pre-heat the oven to 190˚C/gas mark 5. Boil the asparagus in salted water until tender-6-7 minutes should do it, but test with a sharp knife point or fetch one out and eat it (always the best way)! Lift the asparagus out of the water with a slotted spoon and lay onto a tea towel to drain them of excess water.

Lightly butter a large gratin dish (pretty enough to serve at table). Take a slice of ham and neatly lay upon it five asparagus spears. Roll it up and place at one end of the gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining three slices of ham and asparagus, arranging them so that they are equally spaced in the dish.

Scald the cream in a small pan, then pour it over the ham and asparagus. Slide the dish into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cream has reduced somewhat and thickened.

Now, remove from the oven and sprinkle the Parmesan over it. Return to the oven and continue cooking until the ham and asparagus are nicely gilded by the grated cheese, with the cream having quietly become the sauce to the dish-about a further 10 minutes, or so.

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Serve at once, perhaps with a judiciously dressed lettuce salad.

Asparagus pilaf

Serves 2

Ingredients

250g thin asparagus (that known as ‘sprue’ is perfect here, and can be had for ready money)
50g butter
1 small onion, very finely chopped
200g basmati rice (I always use
Tilda brand and don’t wash it)
50ml dry vermouth
250ml hot chicken stock
Freshly ground white pepper
5 thin strips of lemon zest
3-4 sprigs of mint, leaves removed and finely chopped
A thin slice of extra butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C/gas mark 4. Trim off all woody ends from the asparagus and then chop into short lengths-about 1cm and on the diagonal, preferably. Put to one side. Melt the butter in a roomy pan that has a lid and, in it, fry the onion until pale golden in colour.

Stir in the rice over a lower heat for 3-4 minutes, mixing it with the onions until the grains are well glossed.

Now, add the vermouth to the pan, together with the asparagus and heat together, stirring well. Pour in the hot stock and stir together well. Bring up to a simmer and pop in the lemon zest. Give all a final stir, put on the lid and slide in to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

Once the time is up, remove from the oven, but don’t remove the lid. Leave to rest for five minutes and only then take it off. Put in the mint and slice of butter, then quickly stir the pilaf together, lifting the rice to fluff it and separate the grains.

Finally, lay a thin tea towel over the pan and clamp on the lid once more: this will help to absorb any remaining steam in the rice. Remove cloth and lid and serve promptly, onto hot plates. A dish in itself, say I.

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