Creativity is a funny thing. It seems, so often, to have a mind of its own, like a wild creature you can’t pin down and even if you bait it with inspiration and woo it with promises of productivity it can scuttle away just as you think it is within your reach. When I was in art school I had a frustratingly brilliant professor who told us, quite bluntly, that none of us were creative and that the very concept of creativity is nothing more than a construction of ego: we hold onto the idea of being creative because it makes us feel special, unique, to know that we have created something. What he was trying to do was make us understand that our own creativity does in fact exist, it just doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t create anything without the influence of things that have come before us. Even the most innovative ideas are based on something else, or at the very least they are based on things they are not. I find recipe development very much a creative process, but that means accepting that there is a whole international history of food that has come before my idea, and in most cases, what I am making has been done before. How could that not be so? For almost long as there have been people, there has been cooking. There is nothing earth shattering and unique about this Asparagus Tart but it is simple, spring-flavoured and special.
There are lots of Asparagus Tart recipes out there, each one a bit different from the next, but this one, I’d like to think, has a leg up on many others with the combination of the charred asparagus and the goat cheese. If (almost)everything could have goat cheese in it, I’d be a happy girl. Don’t be scared to make your own pastry – just keep a light touch and make sure everything is nice and cold. At this time of year I want to eat asparagus at least 3 times a week. It’s so perfect and so promising that warm, sunny weather is just a round the corner. I like it almost any way I can get it, breakfast, lunch or dinner. This Asparagus Tart is awesome for lunch or as a fancy, but not too fussy appetizer. Enjoy!
For the Pastry:
1½ C all purpose flour
½ C chilled butter
zest of a lemon
salt and pepper
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Cube the cold butter into ½” cubes and toss in the flour. Chill all ingredients for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Remove from the fridge, and with clean, dry hands, quickly press the cubes of butter between your thumb and fingers making thin, ragged sheets of butter through out the flour. Try to be quick so everything stays cold, and don’t rub the butter to nothing – leave good sized bits of it to keep your pastry tender.
Add a few tablespoons of ice water and quickly stir the dough together until it is cohesive. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface. Aim for a rectangle just slightly longer and wider than your asparagus (to determine that, simply lay out your raw asparagus as a guide – this much pastry is suited for a 1lb bunch of asparagus, give or take a stalk or two). Roll the edges under and crimp them decoratively. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork. Blind bake for 18 minutes at 375°. Allow to cool before assembling.
For the Cheese:
As your pastry cools, whip up this delicious cheesy backdrop for your asparagus …
1 C soft goats cheese (chevre)
½ C cream cheese
zest and juice of a lemon
1 small clove of garlic, grated.
1 tsp coarse black pepper
Mix all ingredients well, set aside.
For the Asparagus (the star of the show!):
1lb asparagus, trimmed
Cook the asparagus in a hot grill pan (or just a dry frying pan if that’s what you have available) until it is tender and delicately charred.
To Assemble your Asparagus Tart :
Spread the cooled crust with the goat cheese mixture and lay out the asparagus, ‘head to tail’ alternating the tips of the stalks as you go. Sprinkle with
¼ C Parmesan cheese
Place under the broiler in your oven for 4-6 minutes until the cheese melts.
Serve at room temperature.