French tarts

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Photography by Annie Peel

Wild asparagus is nearly done for the year now. It has been a good season for it and someone might be able to tell you why. I most certainly cannot. But what I can tell you about are tarts. Asparagus tarts. Wild asparagus tarts with Italian cheeses, herbs, eggs and cream to be precise. I love tarts. I really do.

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Photography by Annie Peel

I went out yesterday and in 15 minutes picked enough of this prolific, freestyling weed to make a tart for between four and six people depending on greed factor. This morning I went to Meneghello Brothers on the San An road (just past the now burnt out franchises in the Hipercentro car park). This shop, open to the public and also offering a delivery service, delights and captivates me. I go in and buy stuff I don’t need weekly. I now have so much pasta I have started to use it as décor, along with the tins of tomatoes with labels depicting chicks carrying shopping with their skirts blowing up in the wind. No wonder Silvio is so randy if even the tins of tomatoes are supposed to give you the horn!

The cheeses are wonderful too – soft fontina, ambrosial burrata, misleading taleggio, smokey scamorza, provolone, ricotta, parmesan to cite a few. For the tart I wanted fontina, parmesan, taleggio and scamorza. The fontina was out so instead I substituted a tomino – a soft, round, flat cheese with a slightly sour aftertaste, a little like a Camembert. I also got some superlative 00 flour and almost white butter from northern Italy. With all these ultra Italian ingredients around me I set about making a French tart. As you do.

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Photography by Annie Peel

If you have never made pastry before it can be daunting but it is sooo worth it. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a cinch so, really, go on, give it a go. The custard too is simplicity itself (just make sure you use damn good eggs to make up for the second rate cream available here). The different cheeses work really well, all contrasting nicely with each other. The taleggio is smooth and deliquescent with just a hint of sourness, tasting more interesting than it looks. The tomino is similar but slightly stronger and the parmesan is crisp on top and adds depth within. All these are working smoothly together and then bam! You get a piece of smokey scamorza. And all the while you are biting through vivid green asparagus and crisp heavenly pastry.

Ingredients:
Pastry

200g type 00 flour
100g butter
I largish egg
Pinch of salt

Custard
6 eggs
200ml cream
Chopped mint, chive and parsley
Pinch of salt and grind of pepper

Filling
A really good handful of wild asparagus (as I say the wild asparagus is nearly done but there is always the perennial stuff from Peru and Chile and sometimes even Spain)
50g taleggio
50g scamorza
50g tomino
30g grated parmesan

Recipe:
Start with the pastry. You could buy this in a shop. Actually you could probably buy a tart in a shop. Now that I think of it, why don’t you just buy a Pot Noodle.

OR

Start with the pastry. Pour the flour and salt into a big bowl and rub in the butter in with your fingertips. Pour in the beaten egg and work it in quickly and lightly bringing it together as quickly as possible. When it is a mass, flatten it out into a thick circle, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for half an hour. All this can be done the day before.

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Photography by Annie Peel

Remove from fridge, flour a surface and roll it out into a circle just bigger than your tart case, say 30cm-ish. Place the rolling pin at the top and lift the edge of the pastry to the pin and roll towards you bringing the pastry with you. Lay the loose end over the tart case and without the pin touching the rim, unroll. Once the pastry is laid out over the tart case push down into corners all the way round. Make sure the pastry is just proud of the edge, as it will shrink in the oven. Prick the bottom of the case ten times with a fork. Place a piece of baking parchment over it and put in baking beans (or gravel or something similar) and bake it at 180 degrees with fan for 18 minutes. Remove when just crisping up.

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Photography by Annie Peel

Whilst the pastry is blind baking make the custard by cracking the eggs into a bowl and whisking with a fork. Add the herbs, most of the grated parmesan and a pinch of salt; then stir in the cream and taste for seasoning. Then blanch the asparagus in boiling water for approximately four minutes, remove and cool in a bowl of cold water. Drain.

Take out of the oven and remove the baking beans. Place the asparagus in the case, add the rest of the cheeses in cubes spaced out throughout and pour in the custard. Grate the rest of the parmesan over the top and bake for 20 minutes.

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Photography by Annie Peel

Check for doneness by poking the middle. If it is slightly browned and just resistant to the touch then it is done. Eat it that day if possible but if not DO NOT REFRIGERATE, it will screw up the pastry.

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Photography by Annie Peel