With tender young asparagus at it’s best right now, you can make these lovely, crisp little tarts in no time at all using frozen puff pastry.
Frozen puff pastry is one of the best shortcuts and works really well with sweet or savory fillings. I keep some in my freezer, while lemons, Parmigiano Reggiano and pots of crème fraîche are always lurking in my fridge.
Adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe that I found in his ‘Kitchen Diaries II’, these asparagus tarts make a perfect appetizer or light lunch, served with a mixed leaf salad.
*It’s worth investing in good Italian Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and grating it as needed. The flavor is far superior to the domestic varieties which means you use less, making it more economical than you think. Keep it in the fridge wrapped ideally in a piece of muslin in the cheese drawer and it will last for ages. Save and freeze the rinds – they’re a wonderful addition to soups.
ASPARAGUS TARTS with PARMESAN & LEMON
(makes 3 or more individual tarts)
One sheet (approx 8 oz / 245g) of defrosted puff pastry, unfolded and cut into three along the folds
The finely grated zest of half a large lemon
Approx 15 asparagus spears, depending on their size (these were young and skinny so the tarts here had 5 each)
3.5 oz (100ml) of crème fraîche or heavy cream
2 oz (57g) of finely grated Parmesan
A spoonful of snipped fresh chives
Pre-heat the oven to 375F (190C).
You may or may not want to roll out the pastry sheet on a lightly floured board (I didn’t but if you do, you can make up to 6 smaller tarts)
Trim and steam the asparagus until al-dente – set aside.
Arrange the pastry rectangles on a baking tray and with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut right through the pastry, score around the edges about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) in, to create a raised rim.
In a small saucepan, warm the crème fraîche with the lemon zest and cheese until the cheese has mostly melted, then spoon half of the mixture into the center of each pastry rectangle. Arrange the asparagus spears on top then spoon the remaining cream mixture over the asparagus, reserving some for later if it looks like it’s going to overflow the pastry edges.
Bake in the pre-heated oven until the filling starts to turn brown in patches and the pastry is puffed and golden. (about 15-25 minutes depending on your oven). Note – if the center of the tarts puff up too much while baking, give them a decent stabbing with a fork to deflate – and if you have any leftover cream & cheese mixture, drizzle it over the asparagus at this point, as the pastry edges will have risen to hold it in place.
Scatter them with a few chopped chives and serve the tarts while they’re hot or still warm from the oven.