Two pretty lazy tarts…

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

No, not a reference to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie amongst the guests at That Wedding, but a pair of recipes to make the most of newly arrived asparagus. Both have the advantage that you can feed some 6 people with a single prized bunch.

Both recipes are dead simple as you start with bought puff pastry. Now that the all-butter stuff is readily available, there’s really no good reason to make your own, unless of course it’s your idea of fun.

The first recipe, pairing the asparagus with slow cooked sweet shallots, unctuous melted taleggio cheese and serrano ham, comes from an old issue of House and Garden magazine circa spring 2005 I think. I carefully clipped the recipe out a few years ago after first making this tart. I then lost the cutting and was never able to remember the ingredients so I was thrilled that it turned up again when I cleared out some old boxes of papers the other week.

The second tart came from an article by Lucas Hollweg in the Times Online May 2008. I came across it when searching for my first recipe, lost then but now found. It’s different but equally good, combining asparagus with garlic, cream and goats’ cheese, the flavours pointed up with a little mint and lemon zest.

The only potential technical pitfall with either recipe is avoiding the dreaded soggy bottom (Princesses, take note…). Making sure your oven is good and hot, and using shallow metal baking sheets should help avoid this problem.

Either tart would make a lovely light spring lunch served with a green salad. And either would be perfect for the group occasion when you need to bring along a dish for a buffet supper or posh picnic – a bit festive, can be made in advance, good warm or cold, tastes fantastic, easy to cut into portions and serve – what more can you ask?

Recipe for asparagus, basil, serrano ham and taleggio tart

With thanks to House and Garden magazine.

You can use either green or white asparagus but be sure to peel white asparagus first – this isn’t necessary with the green stuff. You can substitute other oozy soft-rinded cheeses if you can’t get hold of Taleggio. I’ve made this recipe successfully with slices of Reblochon and Tomme de Brébis previously as that was I had to hand in the fridge. Slices of a well flavoured Brie or Camembert would probably be good too. You can also substitute other cured hams for the serrano, or even leave the ham out if you’re cooking for a gathering including vegetarians.


450g puff pastry
4 tablespoons olive oil
250g shallots or mild onions, sliced
1 tablespoon finely sliced basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g fresh asparagus
85g finely sliced serrano ham
225g Taleggio cheese
Basil leaves to garnish

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C, gas mark 7. Roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle 35cm by 25cm and slip onto a baking sheet. Take a sharp knife and lightly score the pastry about 2cm inside the pastry edge, so that create a rim for the tart. Prick the internal rectangle of the pastry with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently sauté the shallots until they are meltingly soft. Mix in the basil, season to taste and set aside. Meanwhile, trim the asparagus removing the tough ends of the stalks (peel if using white asparagus), then drop into a pan of boiling salted water; cook for about 5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and spread out on kitchen paper to cool.

Spread the shallots over the pastry within the rim. Arrange the asparagus on top, then tear the ham into strips and scatter over the asparagus mixture. Cut the cheese into fine slices (the original recipe suggests cutting off the rind but I think this is unnecessary and wasteful). Dot over the filling.

Immediately place in the centre of the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200 degrees C, gas mark 6 and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and the cheese bubbling. Serve garnished with a few basil leaves.

Recipe for asparagus, lemon and goat’s cheese tart

With thanks to Lucas Hollweg for this recipe which appeared in The Times Online in May 2008.

Again, you can use either green or white asparagus but be sure to peel the white stuff first as otherwise it will be inedibly woody.


500g asparagus
250g puff pastry
2 cloves garlic
100ml double cream
zest of 1 lemon
150g soft white goat’s cheese
salt and pepper
1 egg
small handful mint leaves
olive oil

Throw the asparagus into a pan of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 4-7 minutes until just soft. Tip into a colander and refresh under the cold tap.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 F/gas mark 7. Roll the puff pastry into a rough circle about 28cm diameter. Put it onto a large baking sheet, then use the tip of a knife to score a line all the way around, about 1cm from the edge. Don’t cut all the way through; it’s just to form a rim for the tart. Prick the centre with a fork. Cook in the oven for 5 minutes until it starts to rise and brown.

Meanwhile, mix together the garlic, cream, lemon zest and half the cheese. Season, then beat in the egg. Remove the pastry from the oven and flatten the centre inside the border to make a well. Pour in the cream mixture, being careful that it doesn’t spill over the edge. Arrange the asparagus randomly over the top and scatter with the remaining goat’s cheese and the mint leaves. Add a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Turn the oven down to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6 and bake for 20-25 minutes more until the pastry is crisp. Drizzle over a little more oil and leave for 20 minutes to cool.

A dish fit for princess…?

STOP PRESS – Pleased to see that an asparagus and watercress tart featured on the menu at That Wedding Reception

A dish for spring: potato pie with Beaufort cheese

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

The best thing about the Tarentaise town of Moutiers in the French alps is that it is home to a co-operative which produces the magnificent Beaufort cheese. I passed through Moutiers last weekend on the way home from my ski tour and brought home a generous wedge of the stuff.

You may know Moutiers as the road bottleneck en route to your ski holiday or indeed as a vast alpine waiting room: at weekends the coaches lumber through from the early hours of the morning and the place is thronged with dishevelled looking bleary-eyed travellers. However last weekend, Moutiers was looking uncharacteristically lovely in the spring sunshine:

Just around the corner from the bridge over the Isère river is the redoubtable co-operative building. Solid and pink, you really can’t miss it:

And, joy of joys, there is a wonderful shop within which keeps sensible opening hours (open till 6.30 in the evening). Of course the Beaufort d’ été (cheese made from summer milk when the cows have grazed on the high alpine pastures) takes pride of place:

As well as the Beaufort, the shop sells a fantastic range of other local cheeses, sausages and preserves. I could have filled my shopping basket many times over but, mindful of my budget airline’s baggage weight limit and my own ability to lug the stuff home along with my ski kit, I confined myself to a single perfect generously proportioned wax paper wrapped parcel.

The co-operative offers guided tours at weekends. Sadly I didn’t have time for one of these but there are plenty of information leaflets on hand.

Time for a few Beaufort facts:

• Beaufort is produced under the EU’s “Appellation d’Origine Protégée” scheme
• Its production is limited to the Beaufortain, Tarentaise, Maurienne valleys plus part of the Val d’Arly all in the département (administrative region) of Savoie in France.
• The milk used to make the cheese must come from two special mountain cow breeds, the Tarine and the Abondance.
• There are currently 650 milk suppliers, and 45 cheesemakers collectively producing some 4,300 tonnes of cheese a year.

And one kilogramme of this lovely stuff was mine all mine to to take home and treasure! In the unlikely event that you should tire of eating your Beaufort au naturel, here is a recipe which both showcases the cheese and doesn’t require too much of it.

It comes from Simon Hopkinson’s new book “The Vegetarian Option” and combines the cheese with potatoes and cream, encasing the lot in buttery puff pastry. A scattering of fresh herbs – thyme and the first chives from the garden – give a taste of spring.

Here’s the cheese and potato filling spread onto the puff pastry base:

And here is the finished pie glazed and ready for the oven:

And here is the crispy golden brown finished article smelling deliciously of thyme, a touch of garlic and cheese.

Recipe for potato pie with Beaufort cheese

Taken from Simon Hopkinson’s “The Vegetarian Option” but with some alterations/improvements of my own. This is absolutely gorgeous eaten warm from the oven with a simply dressed peppery green salad. It’s also pretty good cold the next day perhaps as part of a superior packed lunch if by chance there’s a wedge left.


500g small/medium potatoes (SH suggests Desirée: I used new season Pentland Dells very successfully – they have just the right balance between flouriness and waxiness for this dish)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
100 ml double cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly bruised
10-15g butter for dotting
375g bought all-butter puff pastry in 2 equal pieces or sheets (if you have a 500g pack pastry, simply scale up the recipe)
75g Beaufort cheese, very thinly sliced
teaspoon each chopped thyme leaves and snipped chives
beaten egg to glaze the pastry

First steam or boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Leave to cool, peel and slice thickly and put to one side.

Place the cream with the garlic in a small saucepan, bring to the boil then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse until the cream is cool.

Line a shallow heavy baking sheet with baking paper. Roll out the pastry into a rough square shape 2-3mm thick. Take as much care as you can as this will be the shape of your finished pie. Lay the pastry on the baking sheet.

Leaving a border of 2 cm or soCover the pastry shape with half of the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Lightly season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cover with half the cheese, half the herbs and a few dots of butter.

Repeat these layers. Brush the border of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second piece of pastry to an identical shape and place over the following. Press the edges very firmly together, rolling up to form a tight seal. Remember that you will be adding liquid cream to the filling shortly and it is imperative that it does not leak out. Press the tines of a fork into the rolled rim of your pie to further reinforce the join.

Carefully cut a hole 1 cm in diameter in the centre of the pie. This will allow you to pour cream into the pie in due course. Glaze the finished pie generously with beaten egg.

Before adding the cream and baking the pie it is a good idea to rest the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to stop the pastry shrinking when it goes into a hot oven.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 while the pie rests.

Once the pie is rested and you are ready to bake it, the final step is to add the cream. Remove the garlic from the cream then carefully pour cream through the hole into the pie either using a funnel or a teaspoon. Allow the cream to settle and stop pouring as soon as the pie seems full. Reserve and set aside any leftover cream, you will have a chance to add some more once the pie has browned.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes until the pastry begins to crisp up and become golden. Remove from the oven and add a little more of any remaining cream.

Reduce the heat to 180 degrees/gas mark 4, return the pie to the oven and continue cooking for a further 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown all over. Check progress during this second phase of baking and cover with foil of necessary to stop the pastry turning too brown.

Let the pie stand for a few minutes after baking. If you are not eating it straightaway, remove carefully to a wire rack to allow to cool.

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