For a quick and easy, but elegant, starter or even a light main course, these little roll-ups of asparagus and pancetta (Italian bacon) are hard to beat. And it's tasty, too!
Cured pork and asparagus is one of those taste combinations that were just meant to be. This is just one of any number of dishes that pair these two ingredients, but this may be my favorite of all. Perfect for an elegant meal for important guests, it goes just as well as a light luncheon dish for friends.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and peeled
250g (8 oz.) thinly sliced pancetta
100g (3 oz.) freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
A large nub of butter
Parboil the asparagus in well-salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and let them cool off of their own accord.
Then, taking three or so spears of asaragus as a time, wrap them in 2 or 3 slices of pancetta, making little bundles out of them. Lay them as you go in a greased baking dish just big enough to fit all the asparagus is a single layer, crease side down. (NB: There is no need to tie them up so long as you are careful about handling them.)
Melt the butter and either brush or spoon it over the asparagus bundles. Then sprinkle over the cheese if using.
Bake in a hot oven (200C/400F) for about 20-30 minutes, until the the pancetta has lightly browned. (Using the convection function will make things go faster, if you have it.) Remove from the oven and let it cool for just a couple of minutes, then serve immediately, carefully transferring the little bundles with tongs to hold them together on to plates. Spoon over a bit of the juices left in the baking dish.
NOTES: This technique works equally well with either thick or thin asparagus. And if you prefer (or can't find pancetta) you can use prosciutto or American-style bacon.
Another popular, and much richer, asparagus and pancetta dish has you line up the asparagus spears in a layer, then nap them with some bechamel sauce, covering it all with a layer of pancetta and baking in the oven. Yet another dish has you cut up the asparagus into bits, along with cubes rather than slices of pancetta, and sauté them together in butter. The sparagus and pancetta combination is also popular as a condimento for pasta or risotto—and we'll get to those recipes one of these days.