Baked asparagus and conchiglie casserole with a crunchy walnut-breadcrumb topping

IMG_2873One of my spring-time favourites, is fresh verdant asparagus. I simply love it! With its distinct nutty flavour and bright green colour, it certainly gives a burst of flavour and freshness, eaten in any form. Asparagus soup, is an all time favourite in my family, simple and easy to make. Great in fresh salads too, one of my recipes in this blog, incorporates asparagus with Asian flavourings, delicious! This time, I decide to incorporate it with pasta in a creamy white sauce and a crunchy cheesy topping and bake it in the oven. A casserole, a hearty and filling one, with a side of crusty bread and/or a fresh green salad. A perfect meal for dinner tonight 🙂

I peek inside my kitchen fridge and scout around for ingredients to elevate the taste of this dish. I set my eyes on some homemade chicken broth, there’s about a cup of it leftover, perfect to add it along with the milk to make my bechamel or white sauce. With my culinary thinking cap still firmly atop my head, I grab a handful of walnuts, which I intend to pulse or grind in my handy little food processor, along with fresh bread slices, for a crunchy and nutty topping. Let’s not forget the cheese! Yup, a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan and Cotswold double Gloucester cheeses and in it goes In the oven. The end result is a delicious and mouth watering casserole- a forkful of this crunchy and creamy yumminess in every bite, this one’s surely a big hit at dinner time today 🙂

Servings 4

Ingredients :IMG_2862

6-8 fresh asparagus spears, chopped in bite size pieces

Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp.

Cooked conchiglie or shell pasta – 4 cups

Flour – 2 tbsp.

Milk – 2 cups

Butter + oil – 2 tbsp.

Chicken stock – 1 cup

1/4 tsp. white pepper powder

Whole wheat bread – a couple of slices

A handful of walnuts

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 cup grated Cotswold double Gloucester cheese. It’s a creamy English cheese with onions and chives in it. Feel free to substitute with any cheeses of your choice.IMG_2867

Salt and black pepper, to taste

To make the sauce – In a saucepan, heat butter and oil on medium high heat. Add flour and stir for a couple of minutes, to remove the raw taste of the flour. Add milk and chicken stock. Keep whisking at this point, to remove any lumps. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste and white pepper powder. Remove from heat and set aside.IMG_2863

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the asparagus and stir fry for a few minutes. IMG_2866Add salt and pepper. Add the cooked conchiglie or shell pasta and toss for a few seconds. Remove from heat. Combine it with the sauce and mix well. Transfer the mixture to an oven-proof baking dish.IMG_2870

For the topping, pulse or grind the bread slices and walnuts. Add the grated cheese and mix well.IMG_2864

Preheat oven to 375 F. Sprinkle the crunchy breadcrumbs mixture generously. IMG_2871Pop in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins till the top is golden brown and bubbly!

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