April 1, 2008
I debated about whether to post this savory tart recipe so close on the heels of yesterday’s onion tart. Between last week’s dessert parade and now back-to-back tarts, I feared you might think I was a little monotonous. But, because I am just that wild & crazy, I threw caution to the wind and posted the recipe anyway. Really, I should be restrained.
Fears of boringness aside, posting these tart recipes back-to-back actually gives me a good excuse to compare them. Today’s tart wins the ease of preparation category by a long shot, mainly because it involves popping open a package of frozen puff pastry (mmmm), as opposed to yesterday’s tart, which required yeast and rising and yada yada. And the main ingredient here (asparagus) requires a three minute steam, standing in stark contrast to yesterday’s star (onions) which demanded more than an hour over low heat.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
I think this tart has the edge in the looks department too, because really, what’s prettier than golden, flaky, pillowy puff pastry? And while caramelized onions have their own rustic appeal, the asparagus tips in this tart are a little more look-at-me—especially when they are hovering above a creamy light green mixture, with thin shards of salami dancing among them. So, yeah, I’d say this tart—really more of a thin-crust quiche (think: Chicago-style deep dish is to Neapolitan pizza as quiche is to this tart)—takes the appearance category by a hair.
But since cooking isn’t always an attempt to win a beauty contest of find the quickest fix (though I do consider gorgeousness and simplicity to be major assets of a recipe), let’s get to the granddaddy of all the categories, shall we? Of course, I mean the taste. I already gushed over the onion tart, so now let me give this asparagus tart a go. For a recipe that involves some seriously decadent ingredients—the aforementioned puff pastry, whole-milk ricotta cheese, gruyere and salami, for heaven’s sakes!—it was surprisingly light. I think that was inpart because of the tart’s thinness. But I think it’s also because the bright, grassy, entirely springy flavor of asparagus asserted itself in every bite—thanks to the use of not only the blanched tips that graze the top of the tart, but also the pureed asparagus stalks that combine with the ricotta to create a creamy mixture that binds the whole tart together. So, in the end, the taste test is a draw.
What it comes down to is this. If you’re looking for a more rustic, intensely savory, earthy tart (and you’ve got a little more time on your hands), opt for yesterday’s onion tart. But if you’re seeking elegance, bright flavors and lightness (like you might be for a spring brunch, as we were for the Easter brunch for which we made this tart), this asparagus recipe is the one for you. Or, if I’ve just confused you with this not-all-that-helpful comparison, perhaps you should make them both! Have a taste (slash beauty, slash quickness) test of your own and weigh in …
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed*
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces thinly sliced soppressata or other salami, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup grated Comté cheese (about 3 ounces), divided**
Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out pastry on floured surface to 13×10-inch rectangle. Cut off 1/2-inch-wide strip from all 4 sides. Brush strips on 1 side with some of beaten egg, then press strips, egg side down, onto edges of pastry to adhere, forming raised border. Brush border with egg; reserve remaining beaten egg. Transfer to baking sheet. Chill while preparing filling.
Steam asparagus just until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain. Cut off top 2 to 3 inches of asparagus tops; set aside. Coarsely puree remaining asparagus stalks in processor. Add remaining beaten egg, ricotta, 3 teaspoons oil, and salt; process until thick puree forms. Transfer to bowl; stir in salami and 1/3 cup Comté cheese; season with pepper. Spread mixture evenly over pastry. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup Comté cheese. Toss asparagus tips with remaining 1 teaspoon oil; arrange tips over filling.
Bake tart until filling is set, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* I took the Smitten Kitchen’s Deb’s suggestion to try DuFour puff pastry and I highly second her recommendation.
** The very extensive cheese selection at my parents’ grocery store did not include comté, so I opted for gruyere and it was lovely.
*** Kristin’s Note: I steamed the asparagus, made the filling and prepared the pastry shell in advance, which worked really well. It was assembled, baked off and on the table in about a half hour. Not bad.