Start the Clock: Asparagus Tarts

dSince Sheila and I were away on vacation last week — missing both the season’s first farmer’s market and first CSA delivery — our Asparagus Clock started yesterday.

Yes, the Asparagus Clock. For about seven glorious weeks each year, we binge on fresh, local asparagus. And when I say binge, I mean we probably eat it four times a week. And when I say fresh, I mean I hit up the farmstand a couple times a week, too.

 

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If you’re not going to use your fresh asparagus the same day you buy it, treat it like fresh flowers — stand it up in a jar or a glass with an inch or two of water. Keep the jar in the fridge (adding more water if it dries out), and you’ll buy yourself up to two extra days.

With very few exceptions (this soy-mustard-egg yolk sauce is about as fancy as it gets), I keep prep simple because, well, we just freaking love asparagus. Shaved raw into a salad, roasted, grilled, tossed with pasta, folded into scrambled eggs, whirred into soup — even pickled — we can’t ever get enough.

But here’s a fancy-looking preparation that’s delicious and a snap to assemble. And because it’s just as tasty at room temperature as it is right out of the oven, it’s perfect for a brunch buffet or as a make-ahead appetizer.

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These “boats,” each about 8 inches long, hold 3-4 spears and are great walking-around apps — as long as you give your guests a plate or napkin to catch the inevitable flake flak.
Puff-Pastry Asparagus Tarts
  • 1 package frozen puff pastry dough, thawed according to the box’s directions
  • about 1 pound of fresh asparagus spears, rinsed
  • a couple handfuls of shredded Gruyere (or Emmenthaler, Fontina, Aged Gouda, or other hard, mountain-style cheese)
  • a few spoonfuls of minced or thinly sliced shallots or red onions
  • flour, for the bench
  • Dijon mustard, for schmearing
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional toppers: goat-cheese crumbles, thinly sliced prosciutto, bacon bits

Preheat your oven to 400º.

Scatter a little flour on your work surface, then carefully unfold the puff pastry. Lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll it out into a large rectangle. Use a pizza cutter or pastry wheel to get clean, square edges. This is also your chance to cut the dough into smaller shapes (or leave it whole).

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Bite-sized bits, long and skinny boats, or a big ol’ sheet — it’s up to you.

Move the pastry piece(s) to a lined baking sheet. For each tart, score a border about a half-inch in from each edge, all the way around, then use a fork to poke steam holes inside that border.

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The scored and pricked inner rectangle won’t rise as high as the edges, so you’ll have a nice well to put your toppings in.

Bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut and wash the veggies.

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Asparagus speaks. If you bend the stalk end gently, it’ll tell you exactly where the tough-tender inflection point is. You could go ahead and snap it off right there.
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For a preparation like this tart, though, you want uniformity, so go ahead a line up a handful of spears at the tips and dispatch the woody ends with a single cut. Trim the spears again to the size of your tart; I saved the leftover segments for a next-day frittata.
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Rinse the spears gently under cool water to loosen any grit or sand, then wrap them in a tea towel to dry until you’re ready to assemble the tarts.

Place a small dollop of mustard in the well of the baked pastry shell, and spread it around with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the onions or shallots across, then add the cheese. Arrange the asparagus spears on top. For whole-sheet tarts or longer boats, I usually line up the spears head-to-toe, in a single layer. For one- or two-bite cups, though, I’ll do smaller bias cuts and just tangle them in there. Season with salt and pepper, and top with goat cheese or ham or bacon crumbles if you want.

Return the pan to the oven for another 10-12 minutes, until the stalks are cooked through but not mushy. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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One. Perfect. Bite.

 

 

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