It’s Monday night, blackened quiet, a few hours away from the pale dawn of Tuesday. I’m sitting on the couch, right hand nursing a glass of wine as my left taps on plastic keys.
The wine seemed like a good idea three hours ago because… well, I like wine. But as sleep envelops my senses, I’m starting to regret the decision. This blog has been long-neglected since I returned from Europe, buried under work and fatigue. So, as I’ve found a quiet evening, I’m determined to pump out a post before my brain retires. Hear that, red wine? Good.
A few nights ago, Aaron and I picnicked at King’s Park with two of our very best friends. As night slowly swallowed the blush of day, we spread blankets upon dewy grass and ate smooth cultured butter upon chewy sourdough.
Glasses were clinked and stories were swapped beneath plaid woollen blankets. Our feet grew cold and our hearts warmed as we feasted on fresh mango, olive and zucchini salad, beef meatballs with nectarine chutney, soft cheese, asparagus tarts and cured salami.
Oh, it was good.
By late evening, we were laughing into empty plates as brown ducks battled over the leftovers. My half-eaten asparagus tarts (the product of a glut of new-season asparagus at the market) were swiftly packed away from prying beaks and feet.
By 10:00pm, the canopy of cloud started weeping on the darkened landscape. We shuffled towards the car, lugging baskets, lanterns and blankets, packing them away before officially calling the night’s end.
These asparagus and cheese tarts are still a bit of work in progress. The first taste-testers proclaimed them to be a ‘cross between sweet and savoury’ due to the creamy mascarpone and lemon zest.
Despite liking the original tarts, I’ve amped up the flavour in the recipe below with extra cheese and peppery Dijon mustard. The finished product is a shallow, pale-golden savoury tart with streaks of crunchy asparagus, fragrant lemon zest, salty cheese and soft egg custard. The crisp cheese pastry adds both flavour and transportability. Chipotle sauce is optional (unless you’re, me, of course).
These little tarts are begging to be brought to your next barbecue or family gathering. Their cheesy asparagus flavour is perfect for what’s left of the Australian Spring asparagus season*.
Get amongst it.
*Northern Hemisphere friends, don’t let winter stop you. Thin batons of raw zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes or bits of finely diced broccoli would be a perfect substitute for asparagus during the off-season.
Asparagus and Cheese Tarts
Makes eight 12cm diameter x 2cm height tarts
- 100g plain flour
- 40g wholemeal spelt flour (or just add another 40g plain flour)
- 85g butter
- 85g cheese (mixture of cheddar and Parmesan)
- 6 free-range eggs
- 100g cheese (cheddar and/or Parmesan)
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tsp freshly grated lemon rind
- 1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
- 2 bunches (400g) fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and halved (do NOT use canned asparagus. Substitute raw zucchini batons or halved cherry tomatoes if desired)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 50g blue cheese, crumbled (such as Roquefort or Stilton, optional)
For the pastry: Butter eight loose-bottomed tart tins, place onto a sturdy oven tray and set aside in a cool place (put them in the refrigerator if your apartment or house is hot). Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the flour and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the grated cheese and mix. Add 3 tbsp cold water and mix until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 5 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.
When pastry is sufficiently chilled, roll it into a log and cut it into eight even portions.
Press one portion into a rough circle and flatten using the ball of your hand. Carefully lay it into a buttered tart case. Press to fit with your fingers (don’t worry if the pastry seems very thin, it’s supposed to be like that). Line each case with baking paper and baking beads. Blind bake at 180 degrees C (360 degrees f) for 10 minutes or until light golden.
For the filling: whilst the cases are blind baking, combine eggs, herbs, cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard and mascarpone into a large bowl. Whisk together well.
Wash, trim and halve your asparagus spears. After removing the tart cases from oven, gently distribute the egg mix between the cases, then top with sliced asparagus, salt and pepper. Dot with crumbled blue cheese (optional).
Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until egg mix is set (do not allow to brown). Enjoy warm or cold with chutney, bread and/or some dressed rocket leaves.