When I got some Lancashire Cheese from my foodie penpal, I knew I had the start of a great dish. When the Big Guy brought home what was likely the last bunch of local asparagus that we will see this season, I knew exactly what that dish would be.
Lancashire cheese and asparagus are a marriage made in heaven. The sharp flavour of the cheese would be perfect to go with the chlorophyll hit that you get from seasonal asparagus. Add to this fresh herbs, and put it in a tart, and you really are onto a winner.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but as well as the negative environmental impact, I think that asparagus that has been flown across the world has lost a lot of it’s green flavour. For these reasons, I won’t buy it. Maybe it is also the anticipation of this short-lived season that makes it taste better, who knows?
I made my own pastry for this. Any offcuts will freeze well, wrapped in greaseproof paper, or you can be economical with the oven, and make a few jam tarts, or even unseasonal mince pies with the offcuts. This is something that I learned from my mother. We would rarely have a pastry dish without her baking some little sweet treat to use it up.
I used chervil and parsley in this recipe, because I grow them both, and I love chervil. If you have difficulty finding chervil, then you can substitute them both for a good bunch of chopped dill.
This quiche was actually better cold, when the cheese really sang out against the asparagus. Making this dish great for a picnic. You know, for when the summer actually arrives…
Recipe: Asparagus and Lancashire Cheese Tart
For the Pastry:
100 g plain flour
50 g cold butter
Pinch of salt (or just use salted butter)
Cold water, less than 30 ml
For the filling:
1 bunch of asparagus
100 g shelled weight broad beans
8 eggs, beaten
100 ml cream (or milk)
Small bunch chervil, finely chopped
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper (to season egg mix)
100 g Lancashire cheese, grated
Rub butter into flour, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water until it forms a dough. You may not need it all. It must be cold, not tepid, so it’s best not to measure out the water and let it sit while you rub in the butter. When it has formed a dough, you don’t want to work this too hard, so just shape it into a ball.
Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, foil or a plastic bag, and put in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.
Arrange the asparagus. First, snap off the woody bit at the end of the stem. The point at which it breaks naturally will be where the tender, edible part of the stem starts. This will vary according to how long the asparagus has been cut. Don’t discard these tough ends, they make a great soup.
Cut the asparagus stems to size so that you can arrange them in a wheel around your flan dish. Cook the asparagus spears in boiling salted water for about 3-6 minutes, depending in the width of the spears. Cook the offcuts of the asparagus with the broad beans, in boiling water for a maximum of 2 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Drain all of the cooked vegetables and run under cold water as soon as they are done. you want them slightly underdone for this dish, as they will cook a bit more in the tart later.
Double-pod the beans, which may seem like a pain, but will be worth it later.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Grease a flan dish. I have a silicone one, but you may prefer a metal one with a loose bottom, either are good.
Roll out the pastry evenly, to about 1mm thick. Carefully slip it over the rolling pin, and line the flan dish with it. Cut a bit of the excess pastry from over the edge of the dish, and form a ball with it. Use this to gently press the pastry into the corners, and any fluted edges that you may have on the flan dish. This is thin pastry, and will be using a liquid filling, so you want to avoid putting holes in it, or the filling will leak, and burn. Using the dough ball, and not your fingers (especially not the nails) will help prevent tears and holes.
You can either trim the pastry to the edge of your flan dish, or leave a bit of an overhang. Pastry will shrink when it cooks, so I prefer to leave an overhang, which I trim off after the blind bake.
I sometimes coat the warm pastry trimmings in a light dusting of icing sugar and serve as a sweet snack. I can’t bear to throw away any of the edible things!
If you choose to trim the pastry, then you will need to gently pinch it up between your thumb and forefinger, to raise it above the sides of the flan dish, thus compensating for shrinkage (difficult to accomplish if your pastry is thin enough).
Now you need to blind bake the pastry case. Gently prick all over the base with a fork, as evenly spaced as you can, without going through the pastry. Cut some greaseproof paper so that it overlaps the pie dish by about 3 cm each side. Scrunch up the greaseproof, as if you were scrunching up a piece of paper that you were about to put in a wastepaper basket. This will help the paper to line the pastry case and get into the corners and fluting better. Put an even coating of blind baking materials in the pastry case, on top of the spread out grease proof paper. Both the pricking and the blind bake will help prevent the pastry from rising, during the initial baking process.
You can get special ceramic beads for your blind bake, but these are expensive. It is cheaper to use dried beans from your store cupboard,or at a push a thick layer of rice. Beans are better, because you can still cook with them after they have been used as blind bake, and they are heavier than rice. Once the rice has been used as blind bake, it can’t be cooked, so re-use it as blind bake.
Put the tart shell, with the blind bake into the oven and allow to cook for at least 10 minutes, or until the pastry case is crisp, and does not have any “damp” patches. Remove the blind bake, and put the tart case back into the oven for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to brown.
If you need to, trim your pastry case at this point. Or leave it, if it doesn’t look too scruffy.
Since you are using a liquid centre, it is a good idea to seal the pastry case, to help prevent leaks. To do this, brush the case with a little of the beaten egg that you are about to use for your filling. Put it back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the egg wash has given the tart case a shiny, browned finish.
Add the cream, chopped herbs and the cheese to the beaten egg, and mix well. Season with a little salt (because the cheese is also salty) and a good grind of pepper.
Sprinkle the beans and asparagus offcuts onto the base of the tart, then arrange your larger spears over the top in your desired design.
Pour over the filling, and give the tart a shake, to make sure that the filling is evenly distributed in the case.
Place back in the centre of the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160°C. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the filling is just cooked, but retains a little wobble.