Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Asparagus Tart Just Because


NOTE: The following is not a confession of a fragile being. Under normal circumstances, life's crises are handled with goal-oriented rationale that would make any Asian parent proud. But I must confess to net friends and anonymous readers that May was not a good month. Topsy turvy is one way to put it. Though, it makes the last four weeks sound like a cutesy-kitsch carnival ride at the state fair when, really, it was akin to a gut-shifting roller coaster at Six Flags. Due to painful timing, there wasn't the obligatory mourning-unwinding-meditative-introspective-cathartic period to digest the experiences and as Bono and the boys so poetically put it, "walk on." So, I ran away for a weekend because I needed to "think things over." I worked crazy-hard in the office to focus on "what needed to get done," because there was so much to be done. I had mini anxiety attacks because I couldn't help it. None of these coping mechanisms really worked. But I went through them all the same. Out of those, only one seemed appropriate to go into detail in the blog:

I hung out in my kitchen and made an asparagus tart because I was hungry.

Complicated times call for simple remedies. No planning, mise en place, or overnight marinading. Just mindless steps done effortlessly one after another. Repeptive motions that released sounds and scents missing in other parts of life. Meditations and prayers with a knife and spoon. Purple-tinged spears of asparagus never looked so beautiful.

There was some ricotta-goat cheese mixture leftover from the Spring Vegetable Crostone I worked on for Very Good Things. It had lived its life as a base for the season's first green things. Then as a filling for some very ugly (but tasty) ravioli. The last bits scraped together made enough to spread over a simple crust. The inspiration for the recipe didn't come from any specific recipe, but a few disparate thoughts found in a Nigel Slater cookbook I snuggled up with a few weeks ago. I consider it high up there with Where The Wild Things Are. I'll let you ruminate on the similar virtues of Nigel Slater and Maurice Sendak on your own time.

Most recipes for asparagus I've come across usually require two bunches. Frankly, I didn't want to be bothered. I was brooding, after all. So, with only a few skinny spears, I mocked up this tart. The plan was ingenious—the sort of brilliance inspired by laziness. Cut the spears in half and make the tart into a rectangle. It's a bitch to arrange the asparagus within a circumference, anyway. Prepared this way, my paltry spears were plenty. And into the hot oven it went, topped with some chopped spring onions, because I'm the type that would run out of eggs and milk, but still have shit like spring onions hanging out in the veg bin.

Again, I didn't really think about the implications of this random addition. But in the end, I think it worked out for the best.


Asparagus Tart. Nothing Guaranteed.
(But, then again, what is?)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold * 1 1/3 cups + 4 tablespoon pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour * 1 teaspoon salt * 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons ice water * 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar * However much asparagus you have left hanging around, trimmed and cut in half (nothing slimy or gross, please) * 1 cup of Goat Cheese spread (or just plain goat cheese if life is really bad) * extra-virgin olive oil * salt and pepper * spring onions, green onions, or chives, chopped

Prepare the crust: The food processor isn't all that convenient here. There's far more to wash than just using a bowl and who wants to wash dishes when things are crumbling around them? Keep everything cold, including the mixing bowl. Combine flour and salt in the cold bowl. A pastry cutter works wonders—cut in the cubed butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle in ice water and vinegar and combine lightly until its moist enough to gather into a ball. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc (or discs) and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. At least that's what most recipes say. I got along fine with just half an hour. Roll, pat, or pound out into rectangle. Free form works fine here. Fluted edges if you have the energy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the goat cheese filling across the crust, leaving about an inch edge. Spread the trimmed asparaugs over the filling and tuck the crust edge over everything. Drizzle top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chopped allium of choice.

Bake in preheated oven until crust is golden and the asparaugs have literally been through hell—they should be shriveled and blistered a bit, sizzling and singing over the cheese.

Let cool an hour before serving. But if you need to shock your senses, it can be eaten piping hot out of the oven.