I've talked often on this blog of Seattle. However, most of the time -- and especially when discussing its many fantastic amenities -- I'm actually referring to the greater Seattle area. In fact, I'm rather partial to the area known as the "Eastside" -- all the cities on the east side of Lake Washington. The Eastside is perhaps most famous for being the home of Microsoft, but recently it has garnered national attention for another reason. In only a few short years, the Eastside city of Bellevue has grown from a sleepy suburban business community to an amazingly urban technology hub with a thriving cosmopolitan lifestyle. I love Bellevue for all the same reasons as everyone else who spends time in this area. Fantastic restaurants, unbeatable views (two mountain ranges and the Seattle skyline), a wide variety of things to do, and -- the one thing downtown Seattle can't offer -- an abundance of free parking. I was quite pleased and proud, therefore, to see that Fortune just named Bellevue the #1 place to live and launch a business.
Bellevue has a Williams-Sonoma, and at Williams-Sonoma you can buy the same tart pan I have for only $9. (That transitional sentence deserves an A+.) The tart pan is one of the great, hardworking tools of the kitchen. My first tart pan was, unfortunately, one of the few casualties of my move to Seattle (which you now know is actually the greater Seattle metropolitan area). UPS squashed the box, which gave my once round tart pan a sort of oblong shape. (I think UPS employs a very large man to sit on every fifth box that comes through, but that is beside the point.) Tarts are delightfully all purpose. They can be sweet or savory, diminutive or wagon-wheel-esque in size, and served as appetizers, sides, main dishes, or desserts. Indeed, there must be a tart to suit every occasion.
Asparagus is a great addition to savory spring tarts because it doesn't require much fussy preparation and, when arranged properly, it can dramatically enhance the aesthetic value of the tart. It also pairs well with numerous cheeses and spices. For this particular tart, I matched it with thyme and one of my favorite cheeses, Gruyere. My tart looks a little underfilled because I only made half of the filling. However, I used the full amount of cheese and really like the way the Gruyere's flavor stood out. If you make the tart with the specified amount of filling (and you should), you may want to consider using more Gruyere than the recipe calls for. I would also recommend that you grate the Gruyere directly onto the tart because finely grated Gruyere tends to get soft quickly and clump together, which makes it difficult to sprinkle. I was happy with my adaptation of the original recipe. I'd like to try it again with the inclusion of a layer of sautéed onions before the filling for additional texture and flavor.
[Postscript: This post was submitted for the first edition of Tasty Tools, hosted by Chicago blogger Joelen at Joelen's Culinary Adventures.]
Asparagus & Gruyere Tart
Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet, March 2001
Makes one 10" - 13" tart
Black Pepper & Sour Cream Pastry Dough
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into bits
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons ice water
1-2 pounds thick asparagus, washed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup finely grated Gruyère (about 4 ounces)
To make the dough:
You can follow Gourmet's instructions, or you can use my "I hate rolling pins" version:
Add the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and shortening and pulse a few times until they're broken down into pea-size pieces. Add the sour cream and, with the processor running, add the three tablespoons of water. Turn off the processor when the water and cream are just incorporated (it only takes a few seconds).
Dump dough mixture into the tart pan. Working quickly, press the dough flat into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. (Don't worry if it isn't perfect; the dough will still be pliable after chilling.) Chill for 1 hour. If necessary, refine your "flattening and pressing" job and chill for another 30 minutes. Otherwise, proceed with making the tart.
To make the tart:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork. Line the shell with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or raw rice. Bake in middle of oven until sides are firm, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights carefully and bake shell until golden, about 10 minutes more, then cool.
Trim the asparagus spears to measure a little less than half of the diameter of your tart pan. Layer asparagus on a steamer rack, sprinkling each layer with kosher salt to taste. Steam, covered, over boiling water until completely tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes for green asparagus or 12 for white, then transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels. [Alternatively, you can cook the asparagus for a few minutes in the microwave, checking it periodically to be sure you don't overcook it.]
Whisk together cream, half and half, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and thyme, then season lightly with pepper. Pour custard evenly in tart shell. Sprinkle custard with two-thirds of the cheese, then arrange spears in custard, tips out (like the spokes of a wheel). Be sure the asparagus spears are short enough for the tips to touch the tart filling; otherwise they will singe. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake tart in middle of oven until custard is set, about 20-30 minutes.