Many years ago, the Italian restaurant (La Casa Nostra) near our home in Umdloti used to serve up some really fantastic food. A number of their recipes were cooked in a wood fired pizza oven which added unique flavors and aroma to the meal. An opportunity to emigrate to a safer part of the world meant an end to our regular visits to this restaurant. The memories of the food lingered so I decided to try and recreate the taste. The recipe in this Instructable is for an appetizer called Asparagi Al Forno that I created through trial and error from my memory of the taste and visuals.
The main ingredients are marinara sauce, mushrooms, asparagus, green peppers with a mozzarella cheese topping. This appetizer is served hot and complements any Italian main meal like Penne Picante. The simplicity of the recipe means that you can experiment with a variety of ingredients with little danger of serving up a disaster.
While it is practical to make a large pan of Asparagi Al Forno, I prefer to make individual portions that get baked and eaten straight from the bake-ware. This particular recipe serves 4 but you can easily scale it to meet your needs. The most servings I have baked at one time is 10. Enjoy!
Step 1: Ingredients and Prep
- Asparagus - Fresh - 1 bushel (not sure if that's the right word but it seemed to fit!)
- Button Mushrooms - About 2 cups
- Marinara sauce - anything will work here so choose your favorite
- Green bell pepper
- Mozzarella Cheese - 2 cups
- Butter - 1 Teaspoon for frying the asparagus
- Large pan for frying the asparagus
- Oven safe cookware to bake the appetizer in
- Salt to taste (if needed - I don't use salt)
Place the pan over medium heat, add the butter and fry the asparagus until it starts getting soft. This will take about 10 minutes or so depending on the heat. Keep moving the asparagus so that you don't burn it. Remove the pan from the heat when done.
Slice the mushrooms about 1/4" to 1/8" thick. Slice the pepper and chop so that your pieces are roughly 1-1/2" long, or not... this is up to you. I prefer the pepper a little shorter so that you can eat the appetizer without having to cut long pepper strips into mouth-size pieces after it is baked.
Pour about 1/4" to 3/8" layer of marinara source in the bottom of the baking dishes.
Add a layer of green pepper
Add a layer of mushroom
Add a layer of asparagus
Spread the ingredients around evenly between the 4 baking dishes. There is no law governing the order of the layers!
Top with about 1/4 cup of Mozzarella cheese. Add more or less according to your personal tastes but too much cheese will mask the flavor of the fresh ingredients.
Step 2: Bake and Serve
Now place the containers into the oven and set a timer for 12 minutes. The baking time will vary depending on how many dishes you prepared so keep an eye on the cheese. When it starts browning at the edges and you can see the marinara bubbling through, you are done and can remove the appetizer form the oven.
Allow about 5 minutes to cool and serve by placing the appetizer on top of a side plate to avoid damaging your table. The appetizer is eaten directly from the baking dish.
You can try variants of this basic recipe by adding chili peppers, crushed chili peppers or red bell peppers.
All that's left to do is eat and enjoy! Buon appetito!
Second Prize in the
Italian Food Contest