Asparagus and red pepper tart

I’m a nightmare when it comes to buying bakeware. Every time I see something new and exciting, it gets added to an ever growing list of things to be bought when I next have some spare money.

I’d been eyeing up this rectangular flan tin for a couple of years before I finally bought it.   Although my designs on this tin were mostly for making deserts, when I was flipping through my Michel Roux pastry book the other day, I stopped dead when I saw a recipe for this asparagus and red pepper tart. The spears of asparagus lined up so uniformly on the surface make this a real showstopper, and I couldn’t wait to give it a go. If it looks half as good as it does in the book, I’m going to be thrilled!

I make no apologies for ripping off someone else’s recipe so shamelessly – though I will probably keep quiet about the fact I didn’t invent this one when I serve it to friends and family 😉

It starts easily enough, with a pate brisee – a basic shortcrust pastry. And as I’d been inspired by Michel Roux’s recipe to make this tart, I thought it only fair that I get on board completely and made the pate brisee by hand too; I can’t remember the last time that happened – I always make it in the food processor.

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Pate Brisee250g plain flour
125g butter, cubed and slightly softened
1tsp fine salt
pinch of caster sugar
1 egg
1tbsp cold milkPlace flour on worktop and create a well. Add butter, salt, sugar, and the egg.
Cream together, slowly bringing in the flour.
Knead briefly and form into a ball.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Simply creaming the ingredients together by hand, and then adding some cold milk to bring the dough together, it’s ready in minutes.  It was so quick and easy, I’m starting to question why I bother getting my food processor dirty when I make pastry…

While the pastry was resting, I prepared the red pepper semi-confit. I’ve always used red peppers out of a jar before, so I was very interested to try making them myself. I may very well end up using pre-prepared ingredients in a push, but it’s always nice to know how to make things from scratch. The first job is to blacken them under the grill, and then refresh them in ice water to remove the skins.

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Semi-confit red peppers5 medium red peppers
Oil to cover, about 600ml
2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove
1 tsp black peppercornsRub the peppers with olive oil, and then grill on a high heat until the skins blacken.
Refresh in ice cold water, and then peel off the skins.
Remove the stalk, seeds, and membranes, then dry the peppers.
Place the peppers into a saucepan and cover with olive oil.
Add the herbs and seasonings, and heat to about 70ºc for 30 minutes.
Cool, and store peppers in the cooking oil.

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I’m not going to lie, making these peppers was a real chore. I think if I had more evenly charred peppers, the removal of skin would have been a lot easier – something to remember for another time! A thermometer is an absolute must here, as you need to hold the temperature at about 70ºc for 30 minutes. My temperature wandered around between 65ºc-85ºc and my peppers seemed fine, just don’t end up deep frying them!

While the peppers cooled down, it was time to prepare my pastry case. I pulled my pate brisee out of the fridge and rolled it out to about 3mm to line my rectangular tin. Maybe I’m just well practiced at this point, but lining a square tin seemed like a breeze compared to a round tin.

It’s become widely accepted that the best way to bake a pastry case is to leave some overhang to stop the pastry from shrinking away from the tin. You can then trim the pastry after the first blind bake. This has never worked for me – the pastry still shrinks away from the sides of the tin, so I’m not really sure what the point of doing this is. It’s also quite fiddly to move the tin around when there’s pastry on the outside too!

I prefer to roll a pin over the top of the pastry to cut it off, and then gently push up the edges of the pastry case with a blob of the leftover pastry – this will negate any slight fall in the height of the pastry. As long as you tuck the pastry carefully into the corners and chill it before you put it in the oven, I doesn’t seem to fall much at all.

Once the pastry is nice and cold, use a fork to ‘dock’ the bottom and help stop it rising up. I like to also weigh down the pastry with baking parchment and rice for the first 20 minutes, and then remove the weighting and bake completely for another 10 minutes. In order to make the parchment easier to use, I like to screw it up and run it under the tap. This makes it nice and malleable to tuck into the corners of your tin. Just make sure you dry the paper off – you don’t want it to make your pastry soggy!

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And that’s your pastry case done! You will find that the pastry shrinks away from the tin slightly. Some people seem to think this as a problem; I see it as useful – you’ve got to get it out of the tin at some point!

Next, you need to dice your peppers and lay them on the bottom of the pastry case. They will be very oily, obviously, so you should should blot them dry, before and after dicing. You can see the amount of oil leaking out of the cuts into the kitchen towel. Honestly, these peppers were such a faff to make, that I spent the entire time swearing that I would just buy them ready made in a jar next time. But then I tasted these. The are absolutely amazing. If I was going to rustle this up for the family on a school night, I’d probably use something our of a jar, but if we have guests I would definitely make the peppers myself.

The asparagus need to be briefly blanched (2 minutes for mine, as they were very fine), and then refreshed in cold water. I like to hold a piece of asparagus up to the pastry case to check the length required, and then use your first piece as a guide to cut them all the same length.

Now you can begin the final assembly, by pouring most of the egg and cream mixture over the peppers, and then carefully arranging your asparagus spears over the top. The suggestion from my original recipe was to do this in alternating pairs, and I think this looks really good. I was a bit short on asparagus spears here, so had to space them out – I think it would look even better with them tightly packed. Finally you can spoon in as much of the remaining egg mixture as you dare, before sliding the tart into the oven.

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How pretty is that?! Just make sure you leave it to cool for a good 20 minutes before you try to remove it from the tin, otherwise all your hard work might crumble! This was absolutely delicious, and my husband and I demolished it in one sitting.

I regret nothing.

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Asparagus and Red Pepper Tart350g pate brisee
50 fine asparagus spears – approx 300g
5 semi-confit red peppers – approx 600g, finely diced
1 egg
2 egg yolks
200ml double cream
nutmeg
dill sprigs (optional)Line a 35cm x 11cm tranche tin with 3mm of pate brisee, and chill for 20 minutes.

Dock the pastry and weigh down with baking beans. Bake at 190ºc for 20 minutes, then move the weights and bake for another 10 minutes at 170ºc. Leave to cool in the tin.

Blanche the asparagus spears until tender, then refresh in ice cold water. Trim the asparagus spears to fit perfectly across the top of your pastry case – about 10cm.

Layer the diced red peppers on the pastry case. Whisk the eggs and cream together, and season well with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the peppers until just covered.

Carefully arrange the asparagus spears on top, alternating direction. Spoon over the remaining egg mixture.

Bake immediately for 30 minutes at 170ºc
Rest the tart for 20 minutes before removing from the tin.
Garnish with dill springs (optional)

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