The Pioneer Valley where I live in western Massachusetts makes its claim to fame when the asparagus season opens in May. Farmlands, dotting the region’s landscape, yield all manner of crops, but none is more anticipated than asparagus. In fact, our community is so celebrated for its handsome stalks that it is often referred to as Asparagus Valley.
I love to partake in this incredible harvest, so when signs appear in our markets for “native” asparagus, I pick up several bunches to cook every way imaginable. This past week, for example, I pulled out a recipe for asparagus and mushroom tarts that I created several years ago. (A reader of this blog reminded me of the dish recently, saying that it had become a family favorite.)
These tarts take only a short time to assemble since they are prepared with purchased puff pastry. The dough is cut into squares and each mounded in the middle with a delicious mixture of asparagus and shiitake mushrooms scented with tarragon and lemon. As the tarts bake, the sides rise up magically to surround the savory filling.
You can serve these tarts as a first course (as I did this weekend for a spring dinner) or make them the centerpiece of a lunch or light supper along with a salad. You can also cut the square tarts into triangles and offer them warm as appetizers (they are especially good with Prosecco).
Click here if you’d like to see a cooking demo of this recipe that I did this week for our NBC affiliate, WWLP, in Springfield, Ma.
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Asparagus and Mushroom Tarts
1/2 pd slim asparagus
2 tbsp unsalted butter
6 oz shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed, and mushrooms cut into 1/4-inch julienne strips)
3/4 tsp dried tarragon leaves
3/4 tsp grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet puff pastry from a 17.3 ounce package, defrosted (See note.)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
2 to 3 tsp chopped fresh tarragon or 4 tarragon sprigs for garnish, optional
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Break or cut off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Then cut spears on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces, and place them in a medium bowl.
3. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to the bowl with asparagus. Stir in tarragon, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper, and mix well. Cool mixture 5 minutes, then stir in the crème fraiche and Gruyère. (Filling can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.)
4. Place puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface, and with a rolling pin, gently flatten the seams. Cut sheet into four equal squares. With a sharp knife, lightly score a 3/4 inch border along the inside edge of each pastry square, taking care not to cut all the way through the dough. (You simply want to trace a frame within each square, which will rise around the filling and form the sides of each tart.) Transfer squares to a baking sheet. (Squares can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
5. Divide asparagus mixture evenly and spread within borders of each square. Bake tarts until sides have puffed and are golden brown and filling is hot, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully.
6. Garnish each tart with a sprinkle of chopped tarragon or a sprig if desired. Serves 4.
Note: Pepperidge Farm’s 17.3 oz packages of frozen puff pastry, which contain two 9-inch squares, work well in this recipe.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2018