My favorite way to eat asparagus is steamed and drenched in melted butter, and with such a brief season, it’s hard to tire of that simple pleasure … but, sometimes, the occasion demands a bit more effort. Not much, though; this tart, which plays on the grassy spears’ affinity with rich, creamy flavours, looks impressive, but is actually more of an assembly job.
Prep 5 min
Chill 20 mins
cooking 1 hourr 10 mins
For the pastry (or use 250g ready-made shortcrust pastry)
225g plain flourplus extra to dust
120g cold butterplus extra to grease
1 Yolk egg
For the filling
284ml double cream
50g gruyère or nutty cheddaror vegetarian alternative, finely grated
nutmegto grate (optional)
1 Start with the pastry
You could use shop-bought shortcrust, but it’s increasingly hard to find any made with butter, and the others tend to both contain palm oil and not taste half as good, so I’d strongly recommend giving homemade a go; it’s really not as hard as they make out on Bake Off.
2 Make the dough
Put the flour and a good pinch of salt in a large bowl, then grate or cut in the butter (alternatively, mix them in the small bowl of a food processor).
Use your fingertips, or the pulse function, to rub the butter into the flour until you can no longer see any large pieces.
3 Knead to the right consistency
Mix in the egg yolk to bring the mix together into a dough; if it’s too crumbly to form into a ball, add a little cold water; if it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour.
Too much water will cause the pastry to shrink in the oven, while too much will make it hard to roll – aim for the smooth texture of plasticine.
4 Rest the dough and prep the tin
Squash the ball into a thick disc, wrap and chill for 20 minutes. If you want to get ahead, you can now leave it for up to a couple of days, but as with ready-made pastry, get it out of the fridge to soften up slightly before use.
Meanwhile, grease a round, 22cm-diameter tart tin.
5 Line the tin
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until large enough to line the tin, then carefully lift it into the tin, pressing the pastry into the sides.
Trim the excess, prick the base with a fork…
… then line with baking paper and fill with baking beans, raw beans or rice.
6 Blind bake the base, then prep the asparagus
Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden, then carefully lift out the paper and beans – they will be hot. Return the tart base to the oven for five minutes.
Meanwhile, snap the woody bits off the base of the asparagus, then steam the spears for about four minutes, or until al dente (how long this will take depends on their thickness, but bear in mind they will cook further in the oven, so err on the side of caution).
7 Make the puree
Chop the asparagus into short lengths and set the tops aside for later. Put roughly half the rest of the asparagus pieces in a food processor and blitz to a puree.
8 Make the filling
For the double cream into a jug, then beat in the eggs.
Once the two are well combined, mix in the asparagus puree and grated cheese (almost any hard cheese will do here; parmesan or similar would also be nice) and season well with salt and a little grated nutmeg, if using.
9 Fill the case and bake
Arrange the remaining asparagus pieces, including the tops, on the base of the pastry, then pour in the egg mixture.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until set and golden on top, but still a little jiggly in the middle. Leave to cool slightly, or completely, before serving – if you make this in advance, keep it covered, but at room temperature to prevent the pastry going soggy.