Asparagus and goats cheese tart up a picnic

There is nothing better than fresh, locally grown, in season asparagus. In fact it is such a world away from the foreign stems which have clocked up the air miles available on the supermarket shelves year-round that I only buy British when it’s in season – even better from a local farmer’s market. You really can’t beat it.

The eagerly awaited season traditionally starts on 1 May & lasts for 7-8 weeks. However this year the dismal & unpredictable weather has delayed it by several weeks. M&S are the only supermarket currently stocking 100% British asparagus. Farmers markets are selling limited stock from this weekend so finally it looks like our asparagus cravings can be fulfilled.

Asparagus is delicious simply roasted until tender in olive oil with shavings of parmesan cheese (this is a fabulous starter), or for a fancy brunch dipped into soft boiled eggs.

I was lucky enough to get hold of some British spears and wanted to use them differently this year so I made an asparagus and goat’s cheese tart for our antenatal group’s babies’ first birthday picnic. The tart fit the bill as it is portable and good served at room temperature.

This recipe uses a square tart tin and I think this looks more elegant than a round one as the spears lend themselves better to the square but I worked with the round one I have.

I found a great recipe here. Williams Sonoma is a US website so you will either need to have a conversion app handy or it is well worth investing in a set of measuring cups since so many recipes on TV and the Internet these days are American. I still needed to resort to Google to find out how many grams a “stick” of butter is (113 incidentally).

For the pastry, which is super easy, whizz the butter and flour together in a mixer using the paddle attachment until it forms pea size pieces.

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Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together to form a dough.

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Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together to form a disc. Wrap in cling and chill down for at least an hour.

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Whilst the dough is chilling prepare the asparagus by lying it in a single layer on a baking tray, toss in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tender (c.20 mins at 200c). Cook a little extra because I defy you not to give into the temptation to munch on a few straight from the oven! Leave to cool completely.

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Prepare the filling by whisking the eggs, cream, milk, nutmeg, Parmesan, herbs and pepper together.

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Roll out the chilled dough enough to fill a 9″ tart tin. Mine has a detachable bottom which is handy to place on top of the rolled out pastry as a guide.

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Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry onto the tin. Gently ease and push the pastry down into the corners of the tin and mould round the fluted sides. Be careful to smooth away any cracks – no one likes a soggy bottom! Trim the edge of the tin and chill down again for 30 minutes. The pastry has a tendency to shrink away from the sides slightly when baked. That was fine for this tart because it has deep sides so once shrunk it was about right but if you want to avoid this trim the shell after it has been baked. You’ll still get a nice neat sharp edge.

Tip: keep the scraps of pastry in the fridge for later …

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It is now time to blind-bake the pastry which essentially is cooking it before you add the filling which ensures it cooks properly and stays crisp. Line the pastry with parchment paper and weigh it down with baking beans (rice/edible beans you already have in the cupboard will do the job just as well). This allows the delicate pastry case to set but protects it from burning and prevents the base bubbling up. Bake until set – around 20 mins at 200c.

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Take the beans and parchment paper off. Fill in any cracks which have appeared using the saved scraps (thus preventing a soggy bottom) and return to the oven until the shell is golden – about five minutes more.

Transfer the tin to a wire rack to cool completely. Turn the oven down to 190c. Pour the egg and cream mixture into the shell. Sprinkle over around 2/3 of the goats cheese. Arrange the asparagus in the shell and sprinkle with the remaining goats cheese.

Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes until brown on top and a knife inserted inti the middle comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving or serve at room temperature.

Here it is in situ …

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