Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Asparagus, Parma Ham, Pea, Mint and Mozzarella Tart

How's that for a catchy title? Brevity is clearly not my strong suit but, you see, each of the ingredients is equally important here and I didn't want to mislead by leaving any of them out. This tart is really easy and it's pretty much a celebration of lots of my favourite things at this time of year. Although it may not be quick to describe, it was definitely quick to eat, and is my favourite thing to come out of the Dine at Mine kitchen for a long time.

This recipe was inspired by the need to use up a bit of leftover puff pastry from the chicken pie, and the idea comes from a Lindsay Bareham suggestion in Monday's Times. She recommended using the pea and mint purée on toast, topped with griddled asparagus, parma ham and a soft-boiled egg with a drizzle of balsamic. I used the leftover pastry instead of toast and added some mozzarella instead of the egg because my eating partner is anti-egg - I know, it's ludicrous. I ended up with this beautiful tart - summery, light and tasty! Yes, I am very pleased with it if I say so myself (smugly).

I've written before at tedious length about how much I hate wasting food but honestly, it seems like a neverending cycle of creating and using leftovers in the Dine at Mine household. Is it like that for everyone? Anyway, this not only used up some of the pastry and crème fraiche from the chicken pie, but even used the tough ends of the asparagus which you normally click off and throw away. Thrifty! I did boil them for quite a few minutes to make them tender, but I think they could have had a bit longer just to get them really, really soft without any woodiness or stringiness. 

On top, the asparagus and parma ham roast to a crisp and the mozzarella melts. Golden, crisp pastry all around in case you felt at all healthy with all the green vegetables floating around. As you can see, I arranged my asparagus in a beautiful top-to-toe pattern but any old way would do, I'm just a sucker for aesthetics (although the dodgy camerawork may lead you to think otherwise). 

I know I said that I really loved winter food and I didn't want to give it up, but it turns out I was talking rubbish. This crisp, light little tart, some salad, a glass of rosé and a sunlit garden to eat it in and I think summer could be perfect. May, I'm glad you're here - it's asparagus time!

Asparagus, Parma Ham, Pea, Mint and Mozzarella Tart
Inspired by Lindsay Bareham in the Times
Serves 2 greedy people, 3 at a push

- half a pack of all butter puff pastry
- beaten egg to brush the edges
- a bunch of asparagus (mine had 10 spears)
- a couple of handfuls of frozen peas
- the leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of mint
- a tablespoonful of crème fraiche
- salt, pepper, olive oil
- about six slices of Parma ham
- half a ball of mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 200C, put a small saucepan of boiling water on the heat and get out a baking tray. 

Click off the asparagus stems at the point where they break - this should be around 5cm from the end - and set aside the rest of the asparagus. Trim the dry edge of the broken-off ends and any bits which look too tough or manky, then add the ends to a pan of boiling water and boil for 4-5 minutes. Then add the peas, boil for another couple of minutes until everything is tender, and drain. Whiz together with the crème fraiche, mint and some salt and pepper until you've got a creamy green mush. 

Roll out the pastry and score a border around it with a knife, stabbing the inside area a few times with a fork. Smear the pea purée over the pastry (leaving the border clear), then drizzle a bit of oil over the rest of the asparagus and arrange it on top of the purée. Drape the Parma ham and torn up mozzarella on top. Finally, brush the exposed border with beaten egg and bake the tart for 15-20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the pastry is golden and crisp.

Before serving, sprinkle a few drops of balsamic vinegar on top of the tart then eat straight away. 

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