I do have an excuse, though. The fact is, for the first few weeks after asparagus make an appearance, I prefer to make it using the most simple and unadorned methods available – briefly steamed until tender crisp, or tossed with a little olive oil and grilled until lightly charred and wilted. It’s an antidote to a whole winter’s worth of slow-roasted, braised, baked, mashed and otherwise fussy vegetables.
By this point in the season, the initial feeding frenzy is usually over… and yet, I still can’t seem to walk into the greengrocer without adding a bundle or two of bright green elastic-wrapped spears to my basket. I just can’t resist the lure of those trays filled with slender asparagus tipped with just the barest hint of mauve, especially when they’re now at the bargain-basement price of 2 bundles for $3.00! Sure, by now there are sweet peas and radishes and garlic scapes to compete for my attention, but even so, I always return to the noble asparagus.
Besides, once the last of the Ontario crop disappears from my greengrocer’s stands, it’ll be many months before I can lay my hands on reasonably-priced asparagus, so I may as well eat my fill while I can. So I make the most of the bounty by whipping up cream of asparagus soup, asparagus quiche, asparagus omelettes, and so on and so forth.
One evening, inspired by a tub of snow-white ricotta from the Montforte Dairy stand at the local farmers market, I ended up concocting this pretty little tart. The filling is my usual savoury cheese tart base – a blend of creamy cheese, fresh lemon zest, earthy fresh thyme, and a drizzle of cream for moisture and richness – on top of which I’ve arranged a pattern of bright green pencil-thin spears of fresh asparagus.
It’s rather elegant, quite delicious and surprisingly easy. The buttery pastry and creamy, lemony filling make a perfect counterpoint to the green earthiness of the asparagus spears, who are clearly still the stars of this show.
Served outdoors in a sun-dappled backyard, with a simple green salad and a crisp white wine alongside, it’s quite possibly the best possibly send-off for this year’s local asparagus crop (or, at the very least, a most satisfying meal).
- 1 sheet prepared puff pastry, defrosted
- 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated romano cheese
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 12-14 spears asparagus, trimmed
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry into a 16×7″ rectangle. Transfer to a 14×4″ rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom, and press the pastry down against the bottom and up against the sides. Run a rolling pin over the top to create a clean edge. (If you don’t have a rectangular tart pan, place the rolled-out pastry on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and fold in the edges to create a 1″ wide border).
- Pierce the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven, then remove the parchment and weights. Continue baking the crust for another 5-7 minutes, or until golden. Gently press down the bottom of the crust if it has puffed up too much, then set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, use a fork to mash together the ricotta, romano, lemon zest and thyme until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add beaten egg and cream, and mix until smooth. Spread evenly into the cooled crust.
- Cut the asparagus into 3½” lengths. Arrange cross-wise on top of the filling, alternating between spears and stems, until the filling is completely covered.
- Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until asparagus are tender and filling is lightly browned.
- Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving, or let cool completely to serve at room temperature.