Asparagus Tart

It’s official: Spring is finally upon us. It’s funny how, year after year, I actually doubt it’s arrival. I’m a Texas girl, and Milan winters just last so long… around March my hope for blue skies and peach blossoms goes into hibernation and I begin to accept the possibility that it’s finally happened – Spring has abandoned us for good and it’s going to be all rain and wool sweaters from here to eternity.

But then, inevitably, it happens: a few tiny, florescent green leaves start budding from the trees outside my window, the sun peaks out between rain clouds, and asparagus magically appears in the supermarket. At first I hesitate to trust these harbingers, wary of raising any false hopes, but eventually the sunny days outnumber the cold ones and I am slowly persuaded that this glorious season hasn’t completely given up on me, at least not yet. I cautiously pack away my wool sweaters, and celebrate the arrival of Spring in my own way: with asparagus.

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups (160 g) flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter, diced and chilled
  • 1 egg

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or two knives until it is in very tiny bits. Add one egg and mix with a fork until a dough forms. If this does not happen easily, toss it out onto a counter and knead it together. This dough is rather tough but with a little elbow grease, it does come together nicely. (Dough can also be made in a food processor)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch circle. Place the dough in a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan and press to remove any air bubbles. Crimp the edges, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking.

For the quiche:

  • 1 pound medium asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 teaspoons water for egg wash
  • 2 teaspoons diced fresh tarragon

Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C. Cook asparagus in a large pot of salted, boiling water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking, then drain and pat dry. Cut off and reserve tips and thinly slice stalks.
Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat and cook leek with a pinch of salt until soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in sliced asparagus stalks and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk together cream, 2 eggs, tarragon 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Brush tart shell all over with egg wash then spoon leek and asparagus mixture into shell, spreading evenly. Pour cream mixture over asparagus. Bake tart in preheated oven until just beginning to set about 20-25 minutes, then scatter asparagus tips over top, pressing lightly to help them settle into filling. Continue to bake until golden and set but still slightly wobbly in center, about 30 minutes more. Cool in tart pan for about 30 minutes before serving.

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