The other day, I bumped into my friend, MsTina, as I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet. She took one look at my face, and just laughed. I was wandering in a haze of sensual delight, in one hand a spoon, from tasting the oils and vinegars at Vom Fass, and the other hand rubbing together together a bit of Betong ginger – fresh, organic and local and with a scent that has to be experienced to be believed.
I am truly enjoying my weekly sojourns to O’Gourmet because of the quality and variety of ingredients. Inspiration seems to be everywhere. I love all the gorgeous glass bottles of sauce and spice and everything nice. I could just stand and look at all the enticing spices and nuts, tasting this and that, for ages. And dont even get me started on the vegetables! They are so beautiful! Displayed as if in a museum, with the choicest and most perfectly chosen pieces offered up for your pleasure. The woman in charge of the fruits and vegetables, Miss Heng, is a master at knifework, and so she prepares all the produce with an eye to pleasing the visual palate. When I am there, I can be inspired in an instant!
This week, my eye was caught by the most beautiful trio of asparagus – white, green and purple. Asparagus is an fascinating vegetable. Grown above ground, in full sunshine, it turns green, but cover it a little, so that only heads peek above, and the limited amount of chlorophyll it consumes means that the asparagus turns out purple. And grown completely underground, and harvested in the early dawn, so that very little light affects its growing, asparagus is clean pure white. Each tastes different – the white can be very sweet, the purple a kind of calm middle ground, and the green has that traditional nutty lemony flavour.
I decided I wanted to make an asparagus tart – but then I was captured by the gorgeous leeks and the creamy and fresh mushrooms – both white button and portobello. So I decided that I was going to make a tart which incorporated everything. I thought I would use phyllo pastry dough so it would be a rough, freeform tart, and I would place the asparagus and the mushrooms in alternating blocks of intensity on the pastry. From Vom Fass, I sourced gorgeous scented truffle oil for the mushrooms, and a bright, brilliant lemon oil to finish off the asparagus.
Now the only decision was what would form the cushion upon which the veggies would sit in splendour. I wanted the process to be simple – as complex as these tastes are, putting together this tart only takes a few minutes. So, of course, a consultation with M. Sebastien at the cheese room was in order (along with a few heavenly tastings of cheese!). He decided on a Crottin de Chavignol to pair with the asparagus. It was a master step. Crottin de Chavignol is perhaps the most famous of the goat cheeses. Its created, to strict standards, in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Its creamy, nutty, slightly tart – and perfectly balances the delicacy of the asparagus. For the mushrooms, we decided on a Pecorino al Tartufo – a young pecorino, stuffed to the gills with truffles. The scent was overwhelmingly blowsily lush, and I could have purred with happiness right then and there. To bind them together, I decided on using a little cream cheese (and in a bold move), some Delice de Bourgogne – a gorgeous cow’s milk cheese which tastes like organic cream imbued with sunshine and hay. Its like a brie, but less strong – its centre was crumbly and yet yeilding, and the edges were thickly creamy. What a cheese!
I would suggest, if you have a good cheese shop, to go, taste, and consult. There are few experiences quite so lovely as the careful contemplation of beautiful cheese. And a cheese master can help you pair cheese – particularly if you tell them exactly how you will use it – with various vegetables and foods. If you are making this tart from what you can find in the market, I would look for a good parmesan or pecorino, some goat’s cheese and a great cream cheese. This recipe is definitely adaptable – use your own cooking intelligence, your sense of taste and balance, and it will be gorgeous!
While this recipe is simple, there are a few steps to be followed. Because of the phyllo pastry, you want to make sure that the ingredients are not wet, otherwise the pastry will be soggy. Most, if not all, of the work can be done before hand. Prebake the pastry for ten minutes – it can be kept in the fridge up to 2 days. Mix and mash the cheeses, and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. And blanch the asparagus (they live longer in the fridge if slightly blanched) and prep the mushrooms up to three days in advance. Assembly of the tart takes minutes (particularly if youve already baked the shell), and once baked, the tart can be kept in the fridge, for up to two days, reheated in a low oven, covered, just before serving.
Serves 8 – 10 people as a starter, 4 – 6 people as a main course
- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms – I used black trumpet
- 1 – 2 tbsp truffle oil or olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 leek, finely diced
- 2 cups mixed mushrooms – about 4 – 6 portobello and 4 – 6 button – peeled and finely sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup red wine (or Fre red alcohol removed wine)
- 2 – 4 tbsp best quality, aged balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Let stand for ten minutes while you prep all the vegetables. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the water with a sieve in a scooping motion. I dont drain the mushrooms because the silt from the mushrooms tends to come with them, so I simply scoop them out of the water they have been softening in.
Place the softened mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Drain and chop roughly. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, over medium heat, melt the butter into the oil. Add the leek, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the leek has softened, and turned glossy.
Add the fresh mushrooms, half a cup at a time. You want them to saute, and quickly lose their water without becoming soggy. Stir well after every addition, and season with salt and pepper.
About half way through your mushrooms, add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and let the mushrooms absorb the wine and bubble away. It shouldnt take too long for the wine to almost completely evaporate.
Add the rest of the fresh mushrooms, adjusting seasoning, and stirring well. Allow them to saute till almost dry, and then add the balsamic. This will caramelise the mushrooms and bring out their dark sweet quality.
Add the reserved chopped dried mushrooms, adjust seasoning, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed, and set aside until at room temperature.
These mushrooms can be used in pasta, salad, sandwiches – whatever strikes your fancy! They will keep for 3 – 5 days in the fridge, well covered.
- 1 bunch of asparagus – 6 – 9 stalks if large – if you can get a mixed colour variety, do so – it looks dramatically gorgeous!
- 1 tbsp lemon oil or olive oil to finish
Prepare the asparagus. Wash clean in running water, and then take each stalk, and snap near the base. It will snap naturally – the base bits can be frozen and used for soup or a pasta sauce base at another time.
Place the asparagus in a large bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes, until the asparagus has turned bright green. This really depends on the thickness of your asparagus – if you are using the thin delicate type, this may only be a few seconds, thicker varieties will need 3 minutes or so.
Remove the asparagus from the boiling water with tongs, and place in an ice water bath immediately. Or place in another bowl, and run very cold water over.
Asparagus blanched in this manner can be dried well, and then frozen until ready to use (up to 3 months), or refrigerated up to 3 days
- 100 g + 100 g cream cheese
- 75 g + 75 g Delice de Bourgogne or other soft white delicate cheese (or cream cheese)
- 2 x 6 g rounds Crottin de Chavignol (or other good goat’s cheese crottin)
- 100 g Pecorino al Tartufo (truffled pecorino – or other good pecorino or parmesan)
- 1 tsp lemon oil (or olive oil)
- 1 tsp truffle oil (or olive oil)
For the asparagus cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Cut the rinds off the Crottin de Chavignol, and mash the cheese in as well. Add 1 tsp lemon oil or olive oil, and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.
For the mushroom cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Grate or crumble the Pecorino al Tartufo into the bowl, and mash to combine. Add the truffle oil and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.
Phyllo Tart Case
- 1 package phyllo pastry
- 3 – 5 tbsp butter, browned and melted
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Phyllo pastry is very difficult to make by hand because its so thin and delicate. Purchase a good quality phyllo from the store, and treat it well, and you will be fine. Defrost in the fridge for a day before use, or for 2 hours at room temperature. When you unroll the phyllo, place on a board or in a jelly roll pan, and cover with a damp cloth.
Preheat the oven to 170C (350F), and line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and allow it to just brown a bit. This will add immeasurably to the flavour of the finished product. Add the olive oil and mix well. Let come to room temperature.
Place one or two sheets of phyllo pastry on the parchment lined sheet, and brush gently with the butter/oil mixture. Gently place another layer of phyllo over and brush with the butter/oil mixture. Continue until the entire package of phyllo pastry has been finished – usually about 15 – 20 layers. Sometimes I double the layers of pastry between brushes of butter and oil.
Create edges along the sides of the tart by folding inward about an inch, along all four sides. Prick the internal pastry with a fork, gently – otherwise the phyllo will puff up.
Bake in the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature, and reserve, for up to 2 days, tightly wrapped in the fridge.
- Pre-baked Phyllo Pastry Tart case
- Asparagus Cheese Mix
- Mushroom Cheese Mix
- Balsamic Mushrooms
- Olive oil to finish – or lemon oil (for asparagus) and truffle oil (for mushrooms)
Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Make sure everything is at room temperature.
Look at the tart case. It should be a large rectangle. In your mind’s eye, divide the rectangle up into four quarters. Working from the bottom up, spoon asparagus cheese in the left lower quarter, mushroom cheese in the right lower quarter, asparagus cheese in the upper right quarter, and finish off with mushroom cheese in the upper left quarter.
Layer the asparagus over the quarters which hold the asparagus cheese, and spoon the mushrooms over the mushroom cheese. Finish off with just a little dribble of oil.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes in the oven, until the cheese is bubbling and burnished, and the pastry is a dark golden brown.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.
Will keep in the fridge, fully baked, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat in a gentle oven, covered in tin foil to avoid burning, for about 20 minutes.