Asparagus season starts in May and lasts for around six to seven weeks. Pick asparagus when the spears reach 15cm high. Make a cut at 5cm underground with a short, sharp knife to avoid slashing any spears about to emerge. Asparagus is best eaten as soon as possible after its picked. Spears should be pared of their woody ends and cooked in a large pan of boiling water. The discarded ends can be thrown into the pot to add flavour to the water, which can be used in place of stock for a spring soup of asparagus and leeks.
This recipe for asparagus soufflé tart is a showstopper but don’t be put off by the name soufflé. This is a straightforward tart in which two egg whites are whisked until stiff then mixed gently into the custard before baking. The stiff whites hold the custard up inside the shell so it’s less likely to run over and make the bottom of your pastry soggy. Serve a starter at a dinner party to impress friends or make for yourself as a decadent mid-week dinner.
Asparagus soufflé tart
225g shortcrust pastry
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
225ml double cream
Salt and black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
First, line a 20cm tart tin with the shortcrust pastry, cover with baking parchment weighed down with baking beans, and cook for 10 mins at 200°C and then for another 5 mins without the parchment to give colour and ensure the bottom is crisp.
Take the asparagus and pare off the woody ends. Then simmer in salted water until just tender (about 5 mins), refresh in cold water and drain.
Chop into 1cm pieces.
Mix together 1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks, double cream, parmesan and gruyère. Season with salt and black pepper plus a pinch of cayenne.
Spread the asparagus over the base of the tart.
Whisk 2 egg whites until stiff and fold them into the custard very gently, then spoon the whole lot into the pastry shell.
Dust a little parmesan over the top.
Cook at 200°C for 5 mins then turn down to 180°C for another 30-40 mins. The custard should be puffed up and just set.
Allow to cool and serve with bitter or mustardy, dressed salad leaves.