Asparagus & Ham Tart with Orange Zest & Thyme
It certainly does look a little like a roulette wheel, doesn't it, my supper this evening? And it was a bit of a gamble with this combination of ingredients... but it was one that did pay off!
The truth of the matter is that I am not a big fan of white asparagus- especially not the classic preparation with Hollandaise sauce- not for me thank you! But it is coming into season here slowly and so I picked up a pack at the market... and thought I would risk doing something a little different with it...
I know this will drive my German friends crazy, as they insist on their buttery sauces, boiled potatoes and boiled ham-wrapped asparagus, which they devour for the duration of the Spring asparagus season on a seemingly daily basis... but I find it frankly bland and overrated made that way. Traditions are great- seriously... but life is too short to eat the same dish over and over- no matter how good it is! Out with the old and in with the new I say!
So, to prepare this, I first peeled the asparagus, trimmed the stalks to the same length, cutting away the woody end pieces and then halved them to make them more manageable. I popped them into a frying pan with just enough water to cover the base, then added orange zest, a little nutmeg, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and brought it to the boil. I stirred the asparagus around until the water evaporated away and then added a light drizzle of olive oil and continued stirring until everything was lightly coated. After 2-3 minutes, the asparagus was cooked with a nice bit of bite left to it- perfect! So I set it to one side, rinsed out my frying pan and got busy cutting out a circle of puff pastry for the base of my tart...
I laid the pastry base out in the same non-stick pan I had just used- of course only after it was cleaned, dried and completely cool again! I added a strip of extra pastry along the outside edge to give it a little more shape, then began adding the topping, beginning with 4 slices of coppa ham. I then added a light sprinkle of grated Parmesan and began laying out the asparagus, using the tips first, laying them out equally spaced, and then using the end pieces in the space in-between. A light sprinkle of parmesan on top, some pepper and nutmeg and that was it- on went the heat on the stovetop and the oven and broiler too- both at full power!
After just 2-3 minutes on the stovetop, the pastry began to change color, cook-through and slightly puff-up... time to transfer the pan to the oven. If you have read my blog before, you will be familiar with this favorite method of mine- to me it is the best way to get the bases of pies and pizzas nicely firm, golden and brown from below... so in any case- after getting it nicely started on the stove top, I transferred it to the oven for a further 5 minutes, with an extra 3 minutes under the broiler to get it really golden brown- easy! As always!
The finishing touch was the thyme, which added an extra zing to the tangy, fruitiness of the orange and the saltiness of the cheese and ham- that together with the mild asparagus and the buttery pastry was just phenomenal! Even if I do say so myself! And I do! Quite unanimously! But the hell of it is... I am pretty sure you will all agree with me if you try it yourselves!