I've been meaning to post this for some time now. Just before I moved into my new place, I made this little asparagus tart for a dinner party in Brooklyn. I'm not even entirely sure it counts as baking, since I did nothing but assemble 4 ingredients. It just seems to simple to count. In the end, though, it was baked in the oven, so I'm saying it counts. Right? Besides, I've posted on here about making jam, and that ain't baking at all.
Oh, before I forget, if you're looking for a good album to ease into fall with, you should get this little gem by the Fleet Foxes. It's really beautiful, acoustic, and mountain-y sounding, with gorgeous harmonies and sweet lyrics. Perfect for picking apples in your new itchy vintage-looking sweaters or for falling in love with your new boyf/girlf under a sunny blue sky in McCarren park. Delightful. I'm listening to it now. Again.
Ok, this tart is a real treat, and so very easy to create. I got the idea after watching Martha Stewart make one on her show. I really kind of hate her new talk show (but I loved and still mourn her old show). It just happened to be on at the gym one day when I was Stairmastering my little buns off, and I realized my mouth was watering.
It's simple. You need:
1. Two bunches (bundles? groups? asses?) of asparagus. Asparagi?
2. Really good, aged Gruyere cheese
3. Pre-made puff pastry (more on this below)
4. Salt and pepper
I originally was going to say that two bunches of asparagus was too much, but I ended up eating everything that didn't fit on the tart, so it's ok.
I believe Martha blanched her asparagus for a few seconds in hot water, but I love grilled asparagus, so that's what I did. I used my grill pan, and though it's very smoky, it imparts such a wonderful, complex layer of flavor. I tossed the asparagus in olive oil:
Then threw a handful in the pan to grill up:
After about ten minutes and a few turns, voila! Grilled asparagus, nutty and crunchy and delicious!
This is where I was happy to have all the extra asparagus on hand. I ate about 12 of these. So delicious! Also, I should point out that I cooked these over a really high heat. You want the skins to grill up and get those nice little lines in them, but you don't want to cook them through. If you don't have a grill pan, you could saute them in a bit of olive oil over a high heat until they brown on the edges a bit. They have to cook for a while longer once they go into the oven. I don't know about you, but I think mushy asparagus are really disgusting. I love the texture and crunch you get when you bite into a well-cooked asparagus. Yum!
Next, I just shredded the cheese. I love this kind, from Whole Foods:
I don't know how to describe cheeses at all, so I'll just say this one is "really, really tasty." No, seriously, it's... umm... it's firm. So it shreds nicely. And it's salty. Sort of.
Whatever. Buy it. Or don't and be sorry.
Oh, also, this cheese is not too oily or slick when it melts. If you used, say, white cheddar, you'd probably end up with puddles of oil all over your tart. NOT cute.
Ok, so the asparagus are grilled, the cheese is shredded. Next is the puff pastry. If I'd had time or energy or experience or a cooler kitchen, I would have tried making my own pastry. But hey, for $9.99 at Whole Foods, you can save yourself a day of work. I really like this brand and have used it several times:
And look - it has a gold sticker that says it's a WINNER.
You buy this stuff frozen, let it thaw a bit until it's pliable, then just unfold it and roll it out a bit.
Into the pan it goes.
I didn't take too much time with the edges or corners. I'll say that this is because I wanted it to look rustic (and not because I was in a hurry or got sloppy). By the way, it smells SO GOOD. And I love the way it feels in my hands - like a sheet of pure, pillowy, velvety butter. Touching it is my favorite part of working with it.
You prick the insides a bit before you pre-bake it. This prevents the inside part from rising as quickly:
Then you just bake the pastry a bit until it browns up JUST lightly, and you can see that the surface is shiny and looks "sealed."
And that's basically it for the prep work. Next is assembly - just sprinkle on the cheese, pepper, and salt. I didn't use too much salt because the cheese is pretty salty and tangy. Then arrange the asparagus however you like. Here's what I did:
You can see in that photo how the edges of the partially baked pastry had puffed up, but that they aren't really brown or cooked. You can also see how the edges of the asparagus are brown and caramelized from the grilling. This is such a wonderful flavor, and one that you don't get with blanching. It's a small hassle, but so worth it. The flavor is out of control.
So that's it. Bake it at 400 degrees until the cheese has melted and the pastry is brown and puffy.
I guess this is ultimately like a fancy pizza - bread, cheese, vegetables. But dang. It's SO good. Six of us ate almost this whole thing, in addition to everything else we had for dinner. It's easy to make because you don't have to do much, and it will impress your friends. Give it a shot!
While I was working on making this last month, one of my all-time favorite episodes of Golden Girls was one. It was the one where Dorothy's cast of the school play all get measles, so the girls all decide to star in the play themselves. They do the story of Chicken Little, and each of them plays a different fowl. Rose is the dumb chicken, Henny Penny. Blanche is sexy Goosey Loosey. Dorothy is the bookish, nerdy Turkey Lurky. Sophia is just the narrator, but you can see her wearing a fierce high-heeled boot for a second. Anyway, each of the girls brings their personality to the character, and I just laugh my ass off every time I see Bea Arthur be totally serious and earnest while walking like a fucking turkey and wearing a ridiculous (yet remarkably well-made) feather costume. I also laugh when I see her in tights and flats. The other girls have heels. Shit gets me EVERY time!
Thanks for reading. Check back soon for more experiments in my new kitchen. I have to buy a new oven first, but I'm on that.
Thanks for reading!