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Recipe: Asparagus, Speck & Pecorino Tart

Asparagus, Speck & Pecorino Tart

Ingredients

Makes 24cm flan tin size tart

250g plain flour
Pinch of salt
140g chilled butter
2 egg yolks
3–4 tbsp chilled water

For the filling:
12 fine asparagus spears, or 6 thicker spears
120g Pecorino cheese
5 slices of 6-month aged
Speck
1 egg, plus 2 extra yolks
250ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground
white pepper
A few chives, to finish

To glaze blind baked pastry case:
1 egg beaten or egg whites left over from filling

Method

Note: Parmesan can be substituted for the pecorino, and Parma ham can be used instead of Speck in this tart. You can also replace the chives with parsley or basil. You will need an 11 x 35cm loose-based rectangular flan tin.

For the tart case...

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Using 2 cutlery knives and working in a scissor action, cut the butter into the flour, keeping the 2 knives in contact. Using knives rather than fingers helps to keep the butter and flour cool.
  3. Once the butter has been broken down to small pea-sized pieces, use your fingertips to gently rub the little pieces of flour and butter together.
  4. Give the bowl an occasional shake to lift larger lumps of butter to the surface. The mixture should become a uniform fine, pale crumb with no visible lumps of butter. If the mixture begins to turn yellow, the butter is softening too quickly and you need to put the bowl in the fridge for 5–10 minutes to chill the butter.  Add ½–1 tbsp chopped herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano or sage to the crumb mixture and mix well until evenly distributed.
  5. Mix the egg yolks and water together in a small bowl with a fork until evenly combined. Weigh 50g of this mix and add to the crumb and, using a cutlery knife, distribute the liquid as quickly as possible (this will create flakes of pastry).
  6. Pull some of the flakes to the side and feel them; if they are very dry, add a little more of the liquid to any dry areas of crumb and use the knife again. Don’t be tempted to add too much liquid, as it can make the pastry tough. Once you think the flakes will come together, stop adding liquid.
  7. Use the flat of the knife to bring a few of the flakes and dry crumb together, to create larger lumps. At this stage the pastry should be uniform in colour, not streaky. Continue like this until there are no dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl.
  8. Pull the pastry together with your hands, shaping it into a flat disc, about 10cm in diameter and 1.5cm thick. Do this as quickly as possible, without overworking the pastry, which also makes it tough.
  9. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 20–30 minutes before rolling out. This will relax it and prevent too much shrinkage, as well as firm up the butter.

For the filling...

  1. For the filling, bend the lower end of each asparagus stalk until it snaps, and discard the lower woody ends. Trim the spears with a sharp knife so they are all the same length. If the spears are thick, peel off the skin from the lower half using a swivel peeler and cut them in half lengthways. Grate the Pecorino, tear the Speck into large pieces and set aside.
  2. Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 3mm thickness and use it to line the loose-based rectangular flan tin. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until firm to the touch, 20–30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
  3. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and blanch the asparagus for 1 minute. Drain quickly and refresh under very cold water to stop the asparagus cooking and to fix the vibrant green colour. Pat dry with kitchen paper and set aside.
  4. Place the flan tin on a baking sheet and blind bake the pastry case for 15–20 minutes (see page 20), then remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and feels sandy to the touch. If it is starting to take on colour, move it to a lower oven shelf. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 150°C/gas mark 2.
  5. Use a beaten egg or the egg white from the filling to brush the bottom of your blind baked pastry - this will help prevent a ‘soggy bottom’!
  6. Put the whole egg, yolks and cream into a small bowl and mix well with a fork, then pass through a sieve into a bowl. Add 80g of the grated Pecorino, then taste and season with salt and white pepper (bearing in mind that Speck and Pecorino are both quite salty).
  7. Pour the egg, cream and cheese mixture into the tart case. Arrange the pieces of Speck in an even pattern on top, leaving enough room for the asparagus spears. Place the asparagus spears in between the pieces of ham and scatter over the remaining Pecorino.
  8. Carefully transfer to the lower third of the oven and bake for 20–30 minutes until the custard is pale yellow and just a little soft in the centre. To check, give the tart a little shake; there should be no violent wobble in the centre. (An overcooked filling will rise up and feel springy to the touch.)
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet, then remove the tart from the tin and slide onto a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Just before serving, finely chop enough chives to give about 1 tbsp, and sprinkle them over the top of the tart. (This is optional)


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