I have such an unconditional and deep love for fresh asparagus that I can’t help buying a bunch every time I see them somewhere. I feel a little guilty because this often is against our efforts to buy only seasonal and local food, but as I just said – it is stronger than me and I have no self-control whatsoever when I see these crunchy green (or white, of course) shoots.
This time I managed to leave the grocery shop with only a small bunch of them, and the idea of a warm and crispy savoury tart came right away, before I even got home. Yes, we do adore every type of quiches and tarts, like the classic Roquefort quiche or the totally summer tomato, white cheese and basil tart. After the journey deep into pate brisee territories, which was guided by Julia Child advises, it was time for some changes. We made the pastry for this tart, doubling the quantities of the basic recipe and substituting one part of the butter for Parmesan cheese. This way the dough turns into flaky and tender pastry shell with a bit of zing. We also used whole wheat flour instead of the white one.
Makes one 11 inch tart
Preparation and baking time: an hour and half
For the pastry base:
280g /10 oz / 2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
120g / 4 oz / ½ cup chilled butter
120g / 4 oz/ ½ finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
6-7 tbsp ice cold water
For the filling:
a small bunch of fresh asparagus
½ cup sour cream
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground white pepper
Start by preparing the pastry shell, following the instructions for the classic pate brisee. Bake the pastry partially, as Julia Child recommends, for about 10-15 minutes in a preheated to 200C/400F oven. For this type of tarts I usually make an egg white wash – after removing the baking beans, brush the whole inner side of the shell with beaten egg white and return in the oven for just 5 more minutes. This way your tart will never get soggy. When slightly cooled, take the shell out of the tin and leave it to cool on a rack.
Meanwhile clean the asparagus by rinsing the spears under cold water to remove any grit. Snap off the bottom using your fingers – the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part begins. If asparagus you brought is really thick it can have a tough outer skin, which can be easily peeled away with a vegetable peeler.
Blanch the asparagus stems in boiling water for about 2 – 3 minutes. Cool them in cold water and leave aside.
Mix the remaining filling ingredients, until the mixture is quite smooth. When the shell has cooled enough (it may be little warm, but not steaming hot), pour in the egg-ricotta mixture. Arrange the asparagus spears on top and sprinkle a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated to 180C/360F for about 15-20 minutes, until the filling is puffed and nicely browned.
Serve warm and enjoy.