Asparagus, Herb And Goat’s Cheese Tarts
(This recipe is from my new book, Utterly Delicious Simple Food, (Lantern, 2014), and I thought it was a lovely one at this time of year when local fresh asparagus is starting to appear in the markets.)
Although it can seem that anything to do with pastry or tarts is inordinately time consuming, this isn’t necessarily the case, and these lovely tarts are a perfect example of what you can do with a few sheets of ready-rolled pastry. They’ve become a bit of a staple for me when I need something that feels and looks really special, but doesn’t take forever to make. I recently served them to friends for a light lunch along with a vibrant beetroot and pecan salad, and platter of ripe tomatoes, then finished off with a bowl of gently sweetened raspberries topped with a splodge of thick cream swirled with brown sugar and yoghurt. It was such a simple meal, yet everyone loved it and I had no-end of requests for the recipes.
If you can only find very thin spears of asparagus, which happened to me for the photograph, you will need to buy extra as each tart will take about 12 thinner spears.
- 2 sheets ready-rolled butter puff pastry
- 36 medium-sized green asparagus spears
- 2 tablespoons roasted pecans, sliced; tiny dill sprigs; and a little crumbled goat’s cheese, optional, to garnish
Goat’s cheese filling
- 280g soft goat’s cheese marinated in olive oil and herbs (I use Meredith Dairy, which is terrific)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely snipped chives
- 1/4 cup (60ml) lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil (or use regular extra virgin)
- 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
Line a large baking tray with baking paper, and set it aside. (You can use two smaller trays if that works better for you.)
Using a ruler as a guide, cut each sheet of pastry in half, then trim each half into a neat rectangle measuring approximately 12cm x 18cm. Use the tip of a sharp knife to lightly score a 1cm border all the way around the edge of each rectangle, being careful not to cut right through the pastry. Sit the rectangles on the prepared tray, then use a fork to pierce the pastry within the scored borders at 2cm intervals. Pop the tray in the fridge for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200C.
To make the goat’s cheese filling, scoop the goat’s cheese into a bowl, mash it to break it up, then thoroughly mix in the herbs.
For the lemon dressing, whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar and salt have dissolved, then taste it and adjust the flavours to suit you.
Bake the pastries for 10 – 12 minutes, or until they’re golden, then remove them from the oven and let them cool slightly on the baking tray, pressing down with the back of a spoon inside the border of each one to form a slight well.
While the pastry bases are cooking, trim the woody bases of the asparagus and peel them if you like. When they’re all done, slip the asparagus spears into a large frying pan of lightly salted, boiling water and adjust the heat so the water bubbles gently around them. Cook them for 3 – 5 minutes or until they’re tender but still lovely and green (you may have to do these in batches if your pan is small). As soon as they’re ready, remove them from the pan and dunk them briefly in cool water to stop them cooking, then wrap them in a thick tea towel.
Divide the goat’s cheese mixture among the pastry bases, spreading it evenly into the ‘wells’ in the pastry, then pop the tarts back into the oven for 3 minutes to heat through. Meanwhile, gently mix the asparagus with the dressing.
When the tarts are ready, slide one onto each plate and sit some asparagus spears, higgledy-piggledy, on top. Sprinkle with pecans, dill sprigs and the crumbled goat’s cheese, if using. Serve immediately.
To make this dish even easier, you can cut the pastry bases, and make the goat’s cheese filling and asparagus dressing a day ahead and store them in the fridge.