LEFT BRAIN: Asparagus Tart
The crisp golden crumbs nicely set off the smooth cheese-flavoured custard of this sophisticated pastry. It is a fine entrée with salad and bread for brunch or lunch, however it can also star at dinner where an appetizer, such as soup or pâté with tiny crackers, precedes it.
Requires: Baked 9-inch (23 cm) tart shell in pan with removable sides
6-8 slices bacon
4-5 cremini or white mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced asparagus, about 4 oz (120g)
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup (175 mL) crème fraîche or whole milk
1 tbsp chopped mixed fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, parsley and rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/6-1/4 baguette, torn into pieces
1 tbsp soft butter
2 oz (60 g) mild Swiss cheese such as Jarlsberg, grated about 1 cup
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Cut bacon crosswise into 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide strips; fry over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels; set aside.
- Drain fat from pan leaving just a slick; add mushrooms. Sauté until wilted; remove to a small bowl. Add asparagus to hot pan. Sauté just until bright green; place in another small bowl.
- Lightly beat egg and egg yolk. Stir in crème fraîche, chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Use a food processor to make 3/4-1 cup fluffy white bread crumbs; then whirl in soft butter. [All this preparation can be done a day ahead and stored separately, covered, in the refrigerator.]
- In layers, scatter asparagus, then bacon, mushrooms and cheese evenly over bottom of baked shell; pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 35 minutes, or until filling is firm. Set on a rack for 5 minutes; then remove sides from pan and serve hot or at room temperature.
Tart Pastry Shell
You can make the pastry shell up to a week ahead and store in a tightly closed plastic bag – unbaked – in the freezer. Bake blind straight from the freezer just before filling.
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp (3 oz/ 90g) chilled unsalted butter
2 tbsp (1 oz/30g) chilled lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup (60 mL) cold water
- Sift flour and salt together. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter and lard into flour until grainy. Toss water into flour mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly. Press very firmly into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
- Roll out pastry; line a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable sides. Put in freezer for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Line shell with parchment paper; weigh down with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes; then remove paper and weights. Prick the bottom of the pastry in several places.
- Reduce heat to 375F; bake for further 10 minutes or until pastry is golden. (hint: I ‘paint’ the crust inside while hot from the oven with the extra egg white so the crust stays extra crisp even after being filled and baked). Set on rack to cool before filling.
This savoury tart made a delightful lunch the other day. It is attractive and because the vegetables were cooked individually the colours shone through when served. It’s a great choice especially with local asparagus.
RIGHT BRAIN: Spring Garden Soup
This is a soup which pleases everybody. With a mixture of winter and spring vegetables it hails in the new season on cool nights. To jazz this soup up, garnish with a little cream.
This recipe is best freshly made, but can be refrigerated and stored in two containers, solids in one and liquid in another to save the rice from “blooming”.
3 large leeks, sliced
1- 1 1/2 chopped onions
4 tbsp olive oil or butter
4 russet potatoes, cubed
2 large carrots, sliced
2 tsp salt
8 cups hot, unsalted vegetable stock (or more)
1/2 cup rice (converted keeps its integrity)
20 stalks asparagus, sliced
454 g (1 lb) spinach, coarsely torn
- Sweat leeks and onions in oil, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes or until soft.
- Add potatoes, carrots, salt and stock, simmering for 15 minutes. Then add rice, simmer 10 minutes.
- Add asparagus, simmer 5 minutes. If too thick, add more stock and check seasoning. Stir in spinach just before serving.
Nearly every asparagus soup that I have made, or joyfully consumed, as it is a favourite of mine, has been “cream of asparagus” with all the ingredients pureed into a smooth soup. Joanna’s chunky version is just as delicious, especially with a loaf of fresh baguette to tear up into pieces to get the very last of the broth from the bowl. Use olive oil for a vegan soup however I often use chicken stock since I tend to have it on hand and add shredded cooked-chicken for a main course soup. The fibrous stems of asparagus make a superior vegetable stock in only 20 minutes (just hold each stalk, bend until it naturally snaps off forming the tender bit for soup and the fibrous bit for stock).