Mother Nature is one fickle lass, let me tell you! The last month of winter was unseasonally warm but that didn’t stop me from enjoying heavy, hearty dishes and hot, baked desserts. Now we’re coming up to the middle of Spring and I was prepared to start feasting on lighter, fresher meals, however winter wasn’t through with me yet. The past two weeks has been icy cold and a few of days ago, we had one hell of a hailstorm that looked like we were getting snowed under. Our street gorgeously resembled a winter wonderland as we were blanketed with ice and *ugh* my poor car is now sporting more battle scars!
In the middle of a snowy hailstorm. Where has Spring gone?!
But damn if that’s going to stop me from embracing Spring! And there’s nothing more spring-like than fresh vegetable tarts, which I’ve been happily enjoying despite Mother’s Nature’s erratic behaviour.
Ever since I conquered making puff pastry from scratch, confidence has definitely been boosted! To think I use to cower like a wallflower every time I read a pastry recipe! Luckily this shortcrust was a breeze compared to the laborious work of puff. Pate brisée is a more lighter and crumblier version of normal shortcrust or flan pastry (pate à foncer). But that also means that it’s more delicate and for somebody who doesn’t always have a lightest of touches, it proved lethal.
When I filled the tart, a corner piece broke off and as if it was a Hoover Dam collapse, the egg mix started spilling out through the wall! An emergency patchwork with leftover pastry contained the disaster but in the end, I had to bake the tart as it sat in the pool of egg!
Pate Brisée: one of the easier pastries to master
In any case, I still loved the asparagus rows that adorned the tart, which was how the nickname of “Bamboo Forest” arose (but of course you knew that from the beginning right?). I also chose to include roasted red peppers and leek as co-stars (not very spring-like I know but I’m obsessed with leek at the moment). Naturally you’re free to change up the vegetables, whatever makes you happy.
“Bamboo Forest” – Asparagus, Leek and Pepper Flan
250g plain flour
150g butter – slightly softened and diced into small pieces
1 tsp fine salt
pinch of caster sugar
1 Tbl of cold milk
about 2 large bunches of asparagus (around 40-48 spears depending on their thickness)
Jar of roasted red peppers (of course you could make your own with 2 whole red peppers if you feel inclined)
2 egg yolks
200ml double cream or thickened cream
pinch of ground nutmeg (or to taste)
In a food processor, blitz the flour, salt, sugar and butter until crumbly. Add the egg and milk and pulse until it just comes together. On a very lightly floured bench, tip the dough out and knead 4-5 times until smooth.
Roll it into a ball, wrap in plastic clingwrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Note: pate brisée will store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or up to 3 months in the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 3mm and line a loose bottomed rectangular tart tin (mine measured at 35cm x 11cm x 2.5cm). Chill for 20 minutes.
Prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Line the tart with baking paper, fill with pie weights, rice or dried beans and blind-bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C, remove the weights and continue baking the tart for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave the tart in the tin and set aside.
For the leek, chop the white end and discard the green ‘leaves’. Chop off the roots and halve the leek lengthways cutting up to halfway point of the leek baton. Under cold water, rinse the leek making sure to wash off any dirt between the layers.
Halve it completely lengthways and slice into 1cm thick slices. Sauté leek in a pan over medium heat in a bit of oil and butter until softened. Set aside to cool.
Cook the asparagus in boiling, salted water until just tender. Drain, refresh, drain throughly and pat dry. Cut off the woody and fibrous ends of the asparagus and trim to fit the width of the tin (around 10-11 mins).
Grab a few whole roasted peppers from the jar and drain the oil off with paper towels (the amount of peppers is perfectly up to you). When drained, finely dice it.
Evenly scatter the leek over the bottom of the tart, then do the same with the roasted peppers.
In a bowl, whisk the egg, egg yolks, cream, nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour 3/4 of the egg mixture over the leek and roasted peppers.
Lay the asaparagus spears over the tart tip-to-tail in pairs along the length of the tin (2 tips then 2 stalks, then 2 tips and so forth).
Carefully spoon the remaining egg mix over the asparagus and immediately bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the egg has just set.
Remove from the oven and allow the tart to rest in the tin on a wire rack for 20 minutes before unmoulding.
Use a palette knife to lift the flan onto a serving plate. Garnish with the dill sprigs and serve warm.
Recipe adapted from Michel Roux