I recently came across some images and recipes for Asparagus Tarts, of which i'd previously never heard, and I was immediately drawn to the simple yet elegant presentation, and the prospect of dining on mouthwatering asparagus, which is a vegetable I love but have never tried cooking myself.
If you followed any of the links in the above paragraph, you will notice that a typical Asparagus Tart: a) Includes lots of cheese of one kind or another, and b) Is based upon frozen puff pastry dough.
Boo to both of those things. I mean, I am not volunteering to make my own puff pastry dough, but on the other hand, I want more control over my dough ingredients. So I figured why not just make a nice and flaky savory pie dough and use that instead? I used more shortening than I normally would and handled the dough as little as possible, to get a nice flaky crust. I also added a liberal amount of dill and thyme to the dough for flavor (turned out great - I could eat the dough all day long by itself).
For the cheese, I had to think about what kinds of cheese were typically being used in these things. Most often it was Gruyere or Ricotta. If i'm not mistaken (it's been a while, I admit), Gruyere is sort of mild and nutty and ricotta is a little sharper and tangy. So instead of using cheese (duh), I whipped up creamy spread based in tofu, almonds, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar. The idea was to create something creamy with a bit of tang and a bit of nuttiness.
As you can see from the picture at the top, I also took the liberty of adding some mushrooms and tomato. Don't want the asparagus to get lonely.
It was a surprisingly easy dish to make, and didn't take too long either. It's at the top of the list now for Easter, particularly since it's versatile and can be brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Spring Asparagus Tart
2 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Earth Balance Shortening (or just regular Earth Balance)
1/4 - 1/2 Cup Ice Water
1-2 tsp Dill
1-2 tsp Thyme
1/4 Cup Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Almonds*
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
3 TBSP Veggie Broth (or Soy Milk)
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Salt
* You can also use Cashews. If you don't have a VitaMix you may want to chop the nuts in a food processor or something before blending them.
1 Bunch Asparagus
1 Tomato (or 2 small tomatoes)
4 Mushrooms (any kind)
Preheat the oven to 375. Do it now. Don't be like me and totally forget and then have to stand around waiting for like 10 minutes.
First you want to make the dough, because it will need to chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes (although 15 will do) before being rolled out.
Dump the flour, dill, and thyme into a mixing bowl and add the shortening (or butter) in small pieces. Cut the shortening into the flour with a cutter or by using your hand to squeeze and mix, until the flour and shortening are mixed and it looks like cornmeal or something instead of teeny flour grains.
Slowly add half the water and mix. Add water a teeny bit at a time until the dough is just wet enough to stay together like dough. It should be a little bit flaky. If you want, tear off a small piece and flatten it out. Pull the edges - you want it to stretch a little, but without breaking, and you want it to more or less keep its form after being stretched (rather than sucking back into whatever shape it was in before). You're basically making a pie crust here, so just go with it. You don't want dough that is really wet, but it has to be wet enough to hold together and be rolled out and all that. If the dough is falling apart while you're handing it, then add some more water.
Cover the mixing bowl with a slightly damp cloth and place in the fridge.
Now on to the filling. Dump all of your filling ingredients into a blender and blend. Note that you may want to chop the nuts a little in a food processor first. Even my Vitamix was a bit huffy about the whole unsoaked almonds. Add half of each of the liquid amounts. Blend until the mix is smooth. Check the consistency. You will probably want to add the other half of the liquid ingredients. It should be creamy but not too runny. Taste and adjust any seasonings as you wish. Just make it taste good, basically. Pour into a bowl or container of some kind and place in the fridge for now.
Now for the veggies! By the way, this my favorite part, possibly my favorite Thing To Do With a Vegetable (other than feed them to the dog when he begs and watch him look betrayed): Removing the 'wooden' ends of the asparagus.
Why is this so fun? It's easy, it's tactile, and it makes a great little popping noise! Take a piece of asparagus in your hand so that the spiky end is towards your wrist. Bend the other end down with your fingers (like brace on one finger and press down with another). The end will break and snap off with a satisfying little pop. And no worries about where to break it - the asparagus automagically breaks right where the 'wooden' part meets the yummy part (it's stiffer, thus 'wooden' and so it breaks instead of bends). Toss/compost/feed to the dog those wooden ends and set the rest of the spears aside.
Rinse and slice your mushrooms. Slice your tomato(es).
Place the asparagus in a pot and cover with water and a pinch of salt. Heat to boiling and let boil lightly for 2-4 minutes (2 if you like crispy asparagus, 4 if you like limp chewy asparagus).
Toss the mushrooms in a skillet and saute for a minute or two in a dab of oil until they're just a little brown and soft, but not fully cooked. If you're feeling lazy, you can probably just skip this step but they won't be as tender in the end.
Now that you've got the veggies done, it should be about time to take out the dough.
Roll the dough out on a well floured surface (important!). You want to roll it out in a generally rectangular shape (have fun with that) about 18 inches long and 10 inches across (give or take an inch or two either way). Now roll the sides in towards the middle a little bit to form a raised edge all the way 'round. It should look a bit like a cookie sheet made of dough. Speaking of baking sheets, you now want to (carefully!) lift and transfer the dough over to a greased baking sheet. To make this as easy as possible, place the baking sheet as close to the dough as possible, and when you move the dough, do it decisively and quickly.
Brush the dough with a little olive oil and bake it (by itself, no spread or veggies yet) for about 10 minutes.
Remove the dough from the oven.
Now take out your tofu/almond spread and spread it all over the main part of the dough (the low part). You want to spread it on fairly thick, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Then take your asparagus and trim the ends so that it will fit on the dough and lay it down, pressing gently into the tofu/almond spread. Do the same with the tomato and mushroom slices. Sprinkle the whole thing with a bit of salt and pepper, and brush some oil across the top of everything.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the dough is hard and um, looks done. I took mine out at 25 minutes and I think it probably would have been fine if i'd left it in there another 5 (and might even have been ok had I taken it out 5 minutes earlier).
Now doesn't that look and taste fancy?