Thursday, May 19, 2011

Asparagus, again

I had all good intentions of making this entry close on the heels of my last post, Asparagus, Finally - but BLOGGER, the host of this blog - lost my last post and then stayed down for awhile.  The excuse is a little better than "the dog ate my homework" - isn't it?
A few weeks ago, when there was a lovely, sunny and dry Saturday a couple of friends came over for afternoon tea.   Great chance to see these friends and a a great opportunity to cook some more asparagus.
The savory asparagus-ricotta tart, made with an olive oil crust rang just the right note with icy hibiscus tea, which turned into hibiscus tea margaritas - or something like that - before you could say muy bueno.

The olive oil crust is basically a pasta frolla - shortbread, that uses olive oil for fat rather than butter.  It's crunchy - almost cracker-like, and a perfect little platter for ricotta and roasted asparagus.


Tarts like this one can be served as a contorno, a side dish to an antipasto offering of  cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata and speck.  They're also a perfect teatime savory - served just as I did.  After all, teatime quickly segues into cocktail hour and before you know it it's time for antipasto.  Well, this way you'll get a jump start.

Serves 4 - 8

for the pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough bottoms removed, peeled to within 1 inch of the tips
5 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
fresh chives, cut into 2-inch lengths - optional

1.   Make the pastry: in a food processor, combine the flour, olive oil, eggs, and salt and process until a dough forms, less than 1 minute.  Divide the dough in half, form each half into a disk, wrap separately in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and chill for at least 10 minutes.
2.   Make the filling:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.   Place the asparagus on a baking sheet with sides and cover with te 5 teaspoons olive oil.  Use your hands to thoroughly coat the stalks.  Roast until pale gold- about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven.
3.   Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F.  Remove pastry from refrigerator and let come to room temperature, a botu 15 minutes.   On a lightly floured, smooth surface, roll out one of the disks into a 1/4-inch-thick circle.  Use two metal spatulas to place it on one side of an 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch baking sheet (I usually cover the sheet with parchment paper).   Use your thumb and forefinger to roll in and pinch the edge to create a little rim.  Repeat this with the remaining disk.  Spread half of the ricotta on the bottom of each pastry.  Place half of the asparagus, in a decorative way, over each layer of ricotta.  Sprinkle half of the Parmesan and salt over the top of each tart.
Bake until the pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.   Let cool on a rack just a bit, then cut each tart into 4 wedges.   Garnish with chives, if using, and serve immediately.

I made the hibiscus tea according to instructions given to me by my friend (and one of my guests), Amy Chaplin, of Coconut and Quinoa.   Amy gave me my first packet of dry hibiscus petals - and these directions:   steep the tea - about 1 heaping tablespoon per cup of boiling water - sweeten with agave syrup to sweeten to taste.  A spritz of fresh lime juice to finish.   Drain the tea after 5 - 10 minutes and serve this breathtakingly beautiful drink over ice with a slice of lime.  If you're so inclined - and it's 5 pm somewhere in the world, add a splash of tequila, white rum or vodka.
SUSANSIMONSAYS: Guess what? Research has proven that hibiscus tea will lower high blood pressure.   Soothe hypertension.  How's that - beautiful, delicious, and healthy.  Sounds just right to me.
Find both loose hibiscus tea and tea bags at Republic of Tea.
BTW - my friend, Maryam - My Marrakesh -  tells me that the Egyptians sweeten their hibiscus tea with vanilla-flavored sugar.

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