Monday, February 20, 2017

Leek and Asparagus Tartlets

Nikita comes for a short visit. She and her college friends come to lunch. I am torn between making traditional Indian and a light Western lunch. After some deliberation I choose the latter. Prep goes into making chicken chops, which I know she likes. Meatballs in a pomegranate glaze, salad with a tangy yogurt dressing, ricotta gnudi, a simple pasta with zucchini, peas and pesto and the tartlets. I have a bunch of small fluted tart pans. The resulting tarts look quite pretty. Of course, the tartlets take the longest time to put together. So I start those first.

Making shortcrust pastry with a food processor is quick and easy. You pulse flour, baking powder, butter and Crisco. Dribble in cold water and in five minutes you have a supple dough. You could very well make the pastry by hand or use two knives. Figure on 10-15 minutes of rubbing the butter in with your finger tips or using a pastry blender or knives to work on the texture. Before the age of the processor, hand made pastry was the only option. Once the pastry comes together in a cohesive ball, it rests in the fridge for an hour. 

The best part of this tart is that you don't have to roll out the dough. Just pinch off a large clump and mold it into the tart shell. The shells are baked blind. You line the shells with squares of foil. Dump a couple of tablespoons of dried beans into the shells and bake them. I have a bunch of foil squares and a bag of white beans I keep and reuse, essentially for this purpose. Shells need be filled and baked. Baking them insures that they do not get soggy after the filling is ladled in. Fillings need to be a base mix of cream and eggs. Enhance them with fresh or roasted veggies,cheese, cooked meat or fruit. Leek and asparagus reign supreme today!

Makes 18-20 small tartlets or 2 big tarts

2 1/2 cups all purpose Flour
1 teaspoons Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Crisco (Use butter if you cannot find Crisco)
5-6 tablespoons cold Water
2 cups sliced Leeks, white and light green parts 
8 Asparagus stalks
1 tablespoon Butter
1 cup Cream
2 Eggs
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1 cup grated Gruyere 

Place flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a processor. Pulse a few times to mix.

Cut butter and Crisco into 1/2 inch pieces.

Scatter butter over flour. Pulse 8-10 times till flour resembles small peas.

Drop Crisco into flour mix and pulse a few times till incorporated.

Spoon 4-5 teaspoons of water over flour. Pulse 4-5 times. Keep adding tablespoons till the dough comes together. 

If you are making the hour by hand, place flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Cut butter and Crisco into small squares. Add butter first to flour. Rub butter with fingertips or use a pastry blender. Flour should resemble small peas. Add Crisco to mix and mix I t he above fashion. Spoon wate over flour and knead till dough comes together in a smooth cohesive ball.

Dust a surface with a little flour.

Invert dough onto floured counter. Knead dough slightly till it looks smooth and comes together.

Flatten into a 6 inch disc. 

Place dough in a plastic bag. Seal and refrigerate for an hour.

If you are making two large tarts, divide dough into two equal portions, flatten and place in plastic bags and refrigerate for an hour.

FILLING : Start the filling by blanching asparagus stalks in boiling water for 2 minutes. Take them out and run under cold water.  Dry and cut them into 1/4 inch pieces. Keep the tips intact. Halve tips lengthwise and save for garnishing.

Saute leeks in butter till soft and translucent.

Whisk eggs and cream till well blended.

Add sauteed leeks, asparagus pieces and grated cheese to cream.

Season with salt and pepper. Keep in the fridge till needed.

Heat oven to 350F.

Take dough out of the fridge.

TARTLETS: Pinch off a walnut sized ball of dough. Place it in the tart shell. Use your thumb to flatten the dough around the shell. Make sure it it spread evenly. Repeat process using as much dough as you need. Any unused dough can be refrigerated for up to a week. 

TARTS: Roll dough out into a 10 inch circle. Gently place it in a 9 inch tart pan. Pat into place with your fingers. Line dough with foil. Fill the pan with dried beans. Bake for 25 minutes. Use the filling as directed below. Repeat with second disc of dough.

Place them on a baking sheet.

Cut aluminum foil into 3x3 squares. Line each tart with a square. 

Pour 2 tablespoons of beans into each foil square. Use baking beads or any dried beans (white, red or navy). Once cooked these beans cannot be used for human consumption.  I keep them in a plastic bag and reuse them when I blind bake pie crusts. 

Refrigerate tarts for 10 minutes. This is optional, but it makes for a flakier pie crust.

Bake for 20 minutes. 

Take tarts out of the oven. Remove beans and foil. 

Ladle filling into each tart till just below the rim. 

Top each tart with the halved asparagus tip.

Bake tarts for 20 minutes till puffed and golden.

Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. 

Pop the tarts out of the pans and enjoy them warm.

The girls relish lunch. Nikita tells me her trip to our house is too short. I concur. This is the house she came to from the hospital as baby. It feels right I nurture her a little longer.