This simple tourte comes directly from Provence, where green asparagus thrives. An old fashioned farm tourte, it is rich with simple flavor, filled with homey ingredients. But don't be fooled: It is elegant to look at and sophisticated of flavor.
This can easily serve as a main course, along with a salad. Or serve it as a first course before fish or roasted poultry. Try Muscat d'Alsace Sec alongside.
1. Roll out one half of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to form a 13-inch (32-l/2 cm) round to fit a 10-1/2 inch (26-l/2 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Transfer the pastry to the pan, fitting it against the bottom and sides. Leave plenty of pastry hanging over the edges. Roll out the second half of the pastry to form an 11-1/2-inch (29 cm) round. Place the remaining round on a baking sheet and place both the tart shell and the pastry round in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water, and spread several tea towels out on your work surface. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts; 4 liters water) over high heat. Add the asparagus, return to a boil, and cook just until it is tender and turns bright green, 1 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Transfer the asparagus to the ice water, reserving 1 cup (250 ml) of the cooking liquid. As soon as the asparagus is cool, remove it from the water and pat it dry.
3. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the salt pork. Cook just until it is golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, stir, and cook just until they are beginning to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the salt pork and onions, and stir. Stir in 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the reserved asparagus cooking liquid. Cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid thickens and the flour is cooked, at least 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup (185 ml) cooking liquid, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of mayonnaise, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. (The recipe can be made up to this point several hours in advance.)
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Whisk together the egg and the water to make an egg wash.
5. Cut the tips from the asparagus stalks; then cut the rest of the stalks into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths. Stir the zest into the salt pork mixture.
6. Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator and place on a baking sheet. Spread half the salt pork mixture as evenly as possible in the pastry shell. Top with half the asparagus, and sprinkle with half the cheese. Dot the remaining salt pork mixture over the cheese, and top it with the remaining asparagus. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the asparagus.
7. Paint the edges of the pastry with some of the egg wash. Place the top pastry round over the filling, easing it so it fits loosely (any wrinkles or imperfections will disappear in the baking). Trim the edges of the pastry, and crimp the top and bottom edges together. Paint the top crust with the egg wash and pierce it at least 8 times with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. (If you like, cut out several asparagus-shaped pieces of extra pastry and arrange them attractively on top of the tourte; pressing gently to adhere; brush with egg wash.) Bake the tourte in the center of the oven until the crust is golden on top, about 30 minutes.
8. Remove the tourte from the oven and remove the sides of the pan. Let the tourte cool for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.
Note: To refresh salt pork, place it in a saucepan and cover it with cold water. Bring to a boil, drain, and repeat. Pat dry and cut as directed for the recipe.
To trim green asparagus, hold a stalk with the forefinger and thumb of one hand below the tip, the other at the base, and bend. The stalk will snap naturally at the spot on the stem where tenderness gives way to toughness. Discard whatever breaks off at the root end.
What Is Zest?
It is just the colored part of citrus peel (lemon for this recipe). It is easily removed from the fruit with a special tool called a zester or with a traditional vegetable peeler. If any pith (the white substance next to the zest) remains on zest you've removed with a vegetable peeler trim it away for it has a bitter flavor.
After you've put the tourte in the oven, you'll have lots of pastry scraps left over. I gather them up and transfer them to a baking sheet, leaving them curled as they fell when I trimmed them from the tourte. I lightly dust them with sugar and heavily dust them with cinnamon, refrigerate them, and then bake them for 8 to 10 minutes after the tourte has come out of the oven. They make a nice little snack with coffee, or they can even be served with fruit for dessert.
This pastry is very buttery and easy to work. Don't be surprised at the amount of water—it's the secret to success.
Place the flour and the salt in a food processor and process once to mix. Then add the butter and pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse meal, three to five times. Add the 1/3 cup (80 ml) water and pulse just until the pastry begins to hold together, not more than nine or ten times. If the pastry is dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it begins to hold together. Transfer the dough from the food processor to your work surface and form it into a flat round. Let it rest, covered with a tea towel, for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. The pastry is now ready to be rolled according to whichever tourte recipe you are following.
Pastry for one double-crust 10-1/2 inch.
French Farmhouse Cookbook
by Susan Herrmann Loomis
Workman; December 1996
Paper: $14.95; ISBN: 1-56305-488-4
Cloth: $24.95; ISBN: 0-7611-0624-3 432
Recipe reprinted by permission.
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