It’s asparagus season, and we’re eating a lot of it. Steamed, baked, roasted. It’s everywhere. Green, white, tiny, enormous, baked, grilled, roasted, in soups and salads. In Germany it’s called Spargel. I love that word--it sounds like sparkle, and that’s what happens when the asparagus hits the market. It’s the official signal that Spring is here.
In our markets there are mostly white asparagus, often bigger around than my thumb. Its flavor is more delicate than the green kind, and it’s highly prized. I confess that I prefer my asparagus green, though. It has more flavor, and I like its slightly bitter tang. However you buy it, there are many ways to eat it. We’ve had most of them this week, and I finally used the last of it in a tart.
Well, ok, in truth it’s a quiche. Or, as a friend of mine once called it, a 'quickie'. Waaay back when I was in grad school, quiche wasn’t really well known in the Southern part of the US. I went with a friend to a restaurant much prized by poor students. This restaurant was a favorite because it was sort of ferny and bright inside, and it served cheap but ‘cheffy’ food (or at least our idea of cheffy food). We went there for special occasions. I’ve forgotten what this occasion was, but I remember that my friend took one look at the menu and said to the waiter, “bring me some of that quickie Lorraine”. He never lived that one down.
When I made the crust for this I used some of the duck fat I had left from the cuisses de canard. I wanted the flavor of the duck in the crust. If you leave that out, this dish is vegetarian. I used half butter and half duck fat. When I do this the next time I think I’ll use less duck fat--the flavor was good, but a little too strong for this. Next time I’ll use 2 tablespoons duck fat and 1/2 cup butter. Since I think you may not have duck fat sitting around in your fridge, I’ve written the recipe using only butter.
My tart pan is 27 cm / 10 1/2 inches wide, and shallow. The baking time wasn’t very long, and the crust wasn’t as brown as I’d like it. Next time I’ll blind bake the crust so that it will be browner. I’ve adjusted the recipe for that as well.
350 g / 2 cups flour
2/3 cup butter, chilled
1/2 tsp salt
4-5 tablespoons ice water
100 g / 4 oz gruyere cheese, grated
a good pinch of cayenne pepper
fresh ground pepper
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup cream
5 cherry tomatoes
8 spears broccoli, crisp-steamed
Preheat oven to 160 C / 375 F.
- First, make the crust. In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt well. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour. With your fingers, crumble the butter pieces until they resemble fine sand. You can also do this with a fork, but it’s not as much fun. Add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until you can make a loose ball of the dough.
- Form the dough into a ball, and roll it out to fit your tart pan. (Unless you have a pan as large as mine, you’ll probably have some left over.) If there are holes, be sure that you patch them well.
- Put a piece of baking paper in the pan and fill with beans or pastry weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and remove the weights and the paper. Let it cool.
- Put the grated cheese in the bottom of the pan.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs and add the cayenne, the milk, cream, and the pepper.
- Arrange the broccoli spears in the pan on top of the cheese.
- Carefully pour the egg mixture over the broccoli spears. I used a funnel to pour it into the center of the tart so as not to disturb the broccoli or cover it with the egg mixture.
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and arrange the halves between the asparagus spears. I also used pieces cut from the spears to decorate the spaces.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.
- If you don’t have gruyere, cheese, you can use any mild hard cheese: swiss/ementhal, gouda, cheddar...
- I don’t peel my broccoli--it seems like such a waste. I break off the hard part at the bottom and eat the rest. Sometimes the result is that it’s hard to cut with a fork...
- Because of the duck fat that I used, this crust is very short, and was sticky to roll out. I rolled it between two sheets of plastic wrap, but next time I’ll chill it first.