Photo by Judith Hausman
Skinny purple stalks are snaking through the straw covering, and fat green spears are poking up too. Asparagus time is a reason to celebrate. I never got the hang of the pale, lavender-white ones, but the green ones — fat or skinny — are the center of several of my favorite spring meals.
They are a spring treat that’s so easy to prepare. In a colorful Asian style stir-fry or still crunchy in risotto, nestled in an egg-y quiche or pureed in a creamy soup, asparagus are both distinctive and flexible in flavor, taking happily to many different seasonings.
If you’ve spent a day outdoors cleaning up the garden or lugging home farmers market booty, this savory asparagus pastry will impress with little effort. The ass-pa-grass don’t even have to be cooked first. Also, because the puff pastry is baked before you sprinkle on the cheese and place the asparagus spears, it stays very crisp and flaky. The cheese can vary to your liking, but I wouldn’t go any gooier than Gruyere. I used Locatelli and Crotonese because that’s what I had around.
You might try the same trick with other vegetables, such as thinly sliced onions or leeks now or mixed peppers later this summer. The recipe here has no seasoning beyond salt and pepper, but fresh thyme or minced dill, oregano or tarragon, when sprinkled over the finished pastry, would be yummy. Try adding a drizzle of hazelnut oil and chopped hazelnuts, too.
Asparagus stalks will crack off where they begin to be tender; all you have to do is bend them. Still, the piece that breaks off usually has a nibble or two left on it to reward and motivate the cook.
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted but still cold
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups Parmesan, Gruyere, Emmental, or chevre, grated
- 1 pound asparagus, ends snapped off
- olive oil
- salt and fresh pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully open the puff pastry on a floured board, pressing the seams flat. Trim a ½-inch-wide strip from each edge, and stack the strips on top of each edge, crimping with a fork to form a frame. Pierce the whole sheet with a fork. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until golden. If the pastry has puffed up too much despite the piercing, gently press it down with a fork.
Cool a little, and then strew the cheese inside the frame. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer over the cheese. Brush the asparagus spears with oil and season. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the spears are tender.