Among the signs that spring has sprung in New England, fresh asparagus ranks right up there with opening day at Fenway Park. And I'll admit it — I'm a diehard fan!
In season, freshly picked, local asparagus is the only asparagus for me. But sadly, the season is short. That's not to say that asparagus isn't readily available year-round at most supermarkets, but the local spring crop is far superior. The delicate, sweet, grassy flavor of the stalks at their peak can be enjoyed in many different preparations. Some of my favorites are oven roasted with Parmesan, steamed with poached eggs, and starring in a tart.
The tart combines the salty, savory notes of the grated Parmesan with the mellow notes of steamed asparagus. The delicate sweetness of sauteed leeks and the comfort of custard baked in a butter crust round out this spring dish. Serve with a salad for a delightful, low-calorie meal. Okay, delightful? Definitely! Low-calorie? Not quite, but go ahead and indulge — you're eating your vegetables at their best!
- 1 Pastry Dough, rolled into a 9-inch tart or pie pan, chilled (recipe follows)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 leeks, cleaned, halved lengthwise, white and tender green parts thinly sliced
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 4 egg yolks, for custard
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- Adjust the oven rack to middle position and set the oven to 400 degrees. Line the chilled crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Blind bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and the weights, prick the dough with a fork and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes or until the bottom crust looks dry and flaky, but still pale. Brush with the lightly beaten egg.
- In a heavy bottom skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until completely softened, about 25 minutes, adjusting the heat as they cook to minimize browning. Set aside to cool.
- Snap the ends off of the asparagus and peel each woody spear. Place into a colander or steaming basket over 1-2 inches of boiling water, cover and steam until the thickest part of the spear is easily pierced with a pairing knife, approximately 4 minutes for medium stalks. Set aside to cool.
- Whisk heavy cream, egg yolks, and grated Parmesan until combined. Add the cooled leeks. Season with salt and pepper.
- To assemble the tart, layer the asparagus in the tart shell and pour the custard over.
- Bake until golden brown and the custard is set, but still slightly quivering in the center, about 30 minutes. Let cool at room temperature for 10-15 minutes and serve warm, or chill for later service.
The Pastry Dough
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces butter, cubed and chilled (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- Combine the flour and salt. Using your hands, a pastry blender or a food processor, 'cut in' or pulse the chilled butter into the flour until the mixture resembles course meal.
- Add the milk and combine until the dough comes together. Form into a flat cylinder and cover with plastic wrap. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Starting from the center, roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Drape into a 9-inch tart shell or an 8-inch pie pan with the dough overhanging the rim. If using a tart shell, lightly brush the sides of the tart crust with cold water and fold the overhanging dough onto itself on the edge of the rim; trim. If using a pie pan, tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself on the edge of the rim and crimp.