When we’d first seen the photo of this tart in Eric Lanlard’s book, Tart It Up!, we knew we had to make it. It’s such a beautiful-looking tart — the nicest in the entire book — and we figured that being made with fresh asparagus, it was perfect for us. We just love asparagus; tasting asparagus is tasting spring. It took us a while, but we eventually picked up most of the ingredients (we replaced the fresh fava beans with another 1/2 cup of peas) — the main one being fresh asparagus — and we whipped it up one evening for dinner.
It took us so long because we had to wait until asparagus was in season. Sure, you can buy bundles of the green spears at the store pretty much year round, but most of that comes from far away, meaning it has spent a lot of time traveling. Traveling is just not good if you want fresh, tasty food. Think about it. Food starts to decay as soon as it’s picked. The sugars start turning to starch, the scent is out-gassing, removing flavor at the same time, and the cells are breaking down because the nutrients necessary to keep them repaired is no longer available. None of this is good for your tastebuds.
With that, let’s get this tart scratched up before asparagus is out of season.
This is all about spring and fresh, so get vegetables when they’re in season, and, if possible, head down to your farmers’ market to make sure they’re fresh. Other than that, let’s see. We recommend the Bouchon Bakery’s Pâte Brisée because it’s easy. Use eggs from those happy hens; it’ll make you happy, too. For the dry white wine, use something you like. We’re partial to Pinot Grigio, so that’s what we use. And, as always, Parmesan cheese does not come in a green shaker can.
Procedure in detail:
Roll crust. Lightly butter an 8×10 inch tart pan that’s about 1 1/4 inches deep. Roll the pastry crust between two sheets of baking parchment and fit it into the pan. Dock the bottom of the crust with a fork and set in the refrigerator until needed.
Blanch and shock. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. By lightly salted, we mean about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per quart of water. So, if your pan is holding about 3 quarts of water, toss in a half tablespoon of salt. Once the water’s boiling, add the asparagus and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon (so that the water keeps boiling), place in a colander and run under cold water until cool. Cook the peas for 3 minutes in the same way.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Make filling. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add cream, yogurt, wine, and herbs. Beat thoroughly, then season with salt and pepper. We like to break up the eggs before adding any other ingredients. We don’t think it matters that much, though, just so long as the end product is homogenous.
Layer with cheese. Take out the tart shell and layer about 1/2 the Parmesan cheese on the bottom, making sure to spread it to all corners.
Add vegetables. Be artistic and arrange the vegetables nicely, preferably so that some of the asparagus sticks out on the sides. You want this to look nice, don’t you? We did.
Add cheese again. Spread the remaining Parmesan cheese over the vegetables, trying not to disturb that work of art that you just created. If you do disturb it, just replace the vegetables so they look nice.
Add filling. Carefully — you did go to all that trouble arranging and layering — pour the custard filling over the vegetables and cheese. It should come up to the top of the pan.
Bake. Slide into the middle of the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the center is set and the tart’s a nice golden brown. Ours was in a slightly deeper pan than recommended, so we had to bake it longer, making some of the asparagus a bit crispy, but it still looked nice.
Serve. Wait a few minutes for everything to settle before serving.
Well, this was a disappointment. We’re not sure if it was because of our deeper pan (we suspect not), or because of the anticipation leading up to making this tart, but we were unimpressed. The crust never really baked completely, so it was somewhat soggy. Another time, we’d blind bake it halfway before adding the filling. On top of that, the Greek yogurt only added a strange flavor to the tart, making it dry-tasting. We would omit it completely. And finally, the custard had too much liquid in it, making it take a long time to set up and resulted in a very tender custard, while the asparagus wound up crispy where it was exposed. To be honest, we would probably not make this again. Three stars.