I had such a proud moment last weekend. Well, two if you count the rather pathetic pride I took in going for a walk. Let’s not shall we – just between us friends let’s pretend that I’m not so needy that I require praise for enacting the basic human function of putting one foot in front of another for a prescribed length of time.
Anyway, the other proud moment was – I made a tart! With pastry and filling and everything! From scratch! And it was scrummy and didn’t have a soggy bottom and didn’t leak and it made a fantastic spring supper.
Now, this is notable for two reasons. The first is that, as long time readers who have held on through the various ups and downs of the scales and my emotional stability respectively will know, my cooking mojo upped and went a little while ago and has proved a slippery little bugger ever since. Hence my recent ode to sandwiches and the lack of many recipes on the blog this year. So me getting back in the kitchen is always worthy of a mention these days. But the second is that pastry is one of those things that I’ve never really tackled. Like bread, pastry makes me furrow my brow in…not fear exactly, but certainly a little trepidation. I think it’s because whenever you see someone on television make either bread or pastry they say something along the lines of “It’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is!” or “There’s no need to be scared!” which…I don’t know, it just sows the seed of doubt doesn’t it? Plus the fact that my Mum makes the best quiche ever in the history of the world gives me some pretty high standards to which to aspire. But, nevertheless, I had some asparagus in the fridge and a yen for an asparagus tart.
|Look Ma! I made pastry!|
I knew that I wanted the pastry to be savoury and crumbly – perhaps flavoured with Parmesan for extra saltiness. And I knew I wanted the asparagus to be softly suspended in a custard with just a hint of nutmeggy, peppery warmth so that the iron flavour of those beautiful green shoots would be predominant. And I quite fancied a scattering of goats’ cheese on top – a young, fresh goats’ cheese that had a touch of lemon to it for some much needed acidity. And so that is what I made. Warm (not hot) from the oven, it was perfect with some crispy garlicky roast potatoes and a lightly dressed salad. Cold, it made a most excellent lunch.
140g plain flour85g butter, cubed
3-4 tbsp cold water
75g Parmesan, finely grated
Salt, pepper, whole nutmeg
Bunch of asparagus
140ml skimmed milk
125g soft goats’ cheese
Serves 6, 9 pro points per portion
OK, first pastry. Deep breath. The one thing I have gleaned from years of intensive foodie telly watching is that when you make pastry, everything needs to be cold. So, I chilled in the fridge at every stage. First – measure out the flour, the butter and two thirds of the Parmesan into a large bowl. Put in the fridge, alongside a glass of water for half an hour.
Now you want to combine the fat and the flour. I used the Kitchen Aid paddle for this but you could equally just rub it in with your fingers. If you do, try to make sure you use just the finger tips. When the mixture resembles dry sand, add the chilled water a tablespoon at a time. Again, I did this in the mixer but you could equally use a spoon or a palate knife. When it looks like it is thinking about coming together, use your hands to form it into a ball – if it is damp enough it should do this without effort but, equally, without feeling sticky. I found it took exactly four tablespoons of water. Wrap in cling film and return to the fridge.
During the second chill, prepare your asparagus – snap off the woody ends and slice in half lengthwise. If it is particularly thick you may consider blanching it for a minute or so just to take the edge off (blanche – plunge into boiling water, then remove and transfer immediately to a bowl of cold water, or run the cold tap over until cool to the touch).
Now – rolling the pastry out. I used a Rachel Allen tip which is: instead of rolling out on a floured work surface, roll between two sheets of cling film. This worked beautifully and means you don’t risk adding to much flour to the mix and upsetting the ratios in the pastry. Transfer to a 20cm diameter tart dish. Trim any overhanging ends and use the trimmings to ensure that there are no holes and that the crust is even all the way around. Return to the fridge for a final half hour blast. Preheat the oven to 180.
Using baking parchment and beans or rice to line, bake the case blind for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until pale gold. Pause for a moment to congratulate yourself on your skill.
Beat the eggs briefly and then add the milk and whisk again until a little frothy. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on the base of the case, artfully arrange the asparagus and then pour over the egg mix – carefully to avoid overflow. Finally, crumble the goats. cheese on top before returning to the oven for around 35 minutes until puffed and golden. Allow to cool to just-slightly-warmer-than-room-temperature before serving.