I have come to the conclusion that asparagus is highly over-rated. Sure, it looks interesting and makes a great subject for photography and is probably extremely healthy to the boot. All I know is that out here, asparagus is very expensive and just not worth the expenditure. I’m probably in the minority when it comes to dislike of asparagus, but I think I can live with that.
The first time I ever ate asparagus wasn’t in the best of circumstances. It was about 10 years back when Akshaya and I were on a trip from Goa to Lisbon in Portugal via Milan. After a long and tiring flight to Milan we had to take a short flight into Lisbon. We got into one of those cute toy-like planes when the pilot, who also seemed to be the purser, came to us with a long list in his hands and a very worried look on his face.
It turned out that despite our asking for 2 vegetarian meals, a very efficient computer system had sent in a request only for 1! He was quite upset about the mistake and assured us that they would provide us with enough bread/ rolls/ butter/ cheese/ jam/ spreads/ fruit/tea/ coffee and whatever else he could think of offering us from their stock on board.
We reassured him saying we were fine so long as we got some form of vegetarian food. The plane took off and our food arrived. Those were the days when the word “vegetarian”, in many parts of the world, meant steam cooked vegetables seasoned with salt and pepper!
So naturally, the vegetarian meal which we had ordered turned out to be some boiled/ steamed carrots and asparagus accompanied by salt, pepper and a little bottle of olive oil! Akshaya being a typically smart 4 year old took one look at it, wrinkled her nose in disgust and told me, “Amma, you can have that and I’ll have the other food!”
So there I was, towards the end of a long journey and a few twenty or thirty thousand feet above land, trying very hard to soothe the rumbles of my angry (and hungry) stomach while chewing away on salted and peppered asparagus doused with olive oil. Can you imagine what sort of a meal that was to someone brought up on Indian food? Adding insult to injury, I had to watch my daughter feasting on a comparatively sumptuous selection of fruit and yogurt, a variety of bread rolls with cheese, butter and fruit preserves!
Recently, for the first time, I came across fresh asparagus at my vegetable market. Anything new (well, not quite) and different is always fodder for this blog and my camera. Ignoring the rather persistent memories from the past, I bought a few of those slightly expensive stalks of green and thought they would be more palatable if hidden in a tart.
Living in the hot and humid tropics means that one is almost always sure to fail with butter laden dough. Gordon Ramsay’s rough puff pastry is what I normally resort to when I need to make some of my own. So armed with some home-made pastry and an asparagus tart recipe put together from too many sources to mention, I made a tart.
I believe the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy”, but for me and asparagus it was a case of “Twice bitten, shy forever”! I have finally arrived at the conclusion that asparagus and I (we) were never meant to be. None of us really liked it though the tart was definitely an improvement over my previous experience! So why am I posting this after all the complaining I’ve been doing? For two reasons, actually. The first is that I believe this being a more “exotic” variety of vegetable out here, we probably haven’t been getting the best of the asparagus crop.
The other reason is that for those of you who do like asparagus, because you should definitely try this tart as it is good. The rough puff pastry is a time saver and the paneer/ ricotta filling is a delight. If you want, leave out the asparagus as I would, and just add another couple of layers of potatoes and you’ll have an even better tart.
Egg Free Asparagus & Paneer/ Ricotta Tart With Rough Puff Pastry
For the Rough Puff Pastry :
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 200 gm salted butter , cold
- 120 ml water about cold
For the Egg Free Asparagus Tart :
- 1 puff pastry recipe rough from above
- 2 asparagus small bundles of skinny stalks
- 1 big or 2 potato small (peeled, parboiled and thinly sliced)
- 175 gm paneer ricotta cubes /
- 2 tbsps milk about
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg grated
- to taste salt black pepper and freshly ground
- 1 tsp chillies red flakes (optional)
- 1/2 tsp garlic paste (optional)
- 3/4 tsp lemon rind grated / zest
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Rough Puff Pastry is about making pastry the easier way so I took the easy way with a food processor. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter in small chunks, add them to the sifted flour, and pulse to mix (or lightly rub into the flour) but NOT to breadcrumb-like texture. The bits of butter should be visible.
- Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough. If in the processor, just add the water and pulse till the dough comes together into a firm ball. Add extra water if needed. Shape the dough into a ball (minimal handling), cover with cling film and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Place the dough a lightly floured board and knead gently. Form it into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width. This should measure approximately 8u201d by 20u201d. Keep edges straight and even. Don't overwork the butter streaks and your dough should have a marbled effect.
- Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that, like a three-fold letter. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out to three times the length, as before. Fold the dough in a 3 fold as above, cover with cling film and chill for about 30 minutes before rolling to use. You can leave it in the fridge longer, otherwise freeze it required. I know it stays in the freezer for 2 weeks.
- For the Asparagus Tart, Trim the asparagus stalks and blanch them in salted water. Pat them dry with a towel and keep aside. Blend the paneer/ ricotta and milk and really smooth. Season the blended paneer/ ricotta with nutmeg, salt, black pepper, chilli flakes, garlic paste, lemon rind and juice. You can also add finely sliced bits of the asparagus stalks.
- Roll out the rough puff pastry into a 1/4" thick rectangle about 11u201d by 6u201d or similar sized round pie dish. Thatu2019s the size that fits the baking tray I used, and I needed to use a little over 3/4ths of the rough puff pastry I had. Place this on a parchment lined baking tray.
- Line the pastry with parchment and fill the tart tin/ pie dish with dried beans. Blind bake the pastry at 190C (375F) for about 15 minutes till it's dry and feels firm to touch. Remove the beans and the parchment.
- Place the potato slices as a single layer on the base of the tart. Now spread the blended and seasoned paneer/ ricotta over this in a uniform layer. Arrange the asparagus stalks decoratively . Brush the edges of the tart with milk.
- Bake the tart at 190C for about 25 minutes until the pastry turns golden. Make sure the asparagus is still succulent and hasnu2019t dried out.