Comfort food #7: Leek and asparagus tart

Let’s be honest. The pursuit of comfort is no fast track to virtue. In fact, there are moments when it’s more like a detour into decadence  — think a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, a block of Lindt chocolate, or a large bag of salt and vinegar chips munched down in front of the TV. Sure, the comfort is momentary followed by acres of regret, but in that moment we feel better somehow.

My preferred versions of regret usually include elements of cream, chocolate, sugar or egg yolks. Sometimes all four at once.  My versions of seriously therapeutic chocolate tart and lemon and lime tart are good examples. More recently, though, I hit upon something more savoury and filled to the brim with green goodness: leeks and asparagus to be exact. Surely comfort’s virtue is not dead!

Ok, so the inclusion of fourteen egg yolks and multiple cups of cream may not flatter one’s arteries, but the luscious custardy filling holding all of that soft buttery green in place is a very decent way to go.

The comfort of this recipe is not only its indulgence. It’s also a reminder of things.

While my dear mum would never have contemplated a recipe with egg yolks in such numbers, I count no less than twelve recipes in her book for variations on the theme — things like egg and bacon pie with carnation milk, quiche Rhonda style, salmon and leek flan, mini quiche, Mallee quiche and simple quiche. As it happens, I have no memory of my mother making such things. Perhaps their presence is testament to what she would have made if she had only herself to please. Maybe a household of blokes put quiche off the menu. What’s that they used to say about ‘real men’?

So this one’s for mum, for comfort and for my arteries.

Here’s what you need

For the pastry

  • 250 grams of plain flour
  • 200 grams of cold butter, chopped
  • 120 mils of sour cream

For the filling

  • a large knob of butter
  • 2 fat leeks (white parts only), thinly sliced
  • Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 fat spears of asparagus (more if they are on the slim side), cut into 2 cm lengths
  • a handful of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 14 egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 cups of cream
  • 60 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

Here’s what you do

To make the pastry

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and the butter and rub together with your fingers until the consistency resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can do this more quickly in a food processor, but where’s the fun in that?
  2. Add in the sour cream and mix together with your hands until the mixture just comes together into a dough.
  3. Tip the dough out onto a floured bench top and kneed lightly into a ball.
  4. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and leave it in the fridge for around 20 minutes.
  5. Grab a 24 cm springform cake tin (one of those with a removable base) and spray it with an olive oil spray. If there’s no spray in the cupboard simply add a few drops of olive oil to the pan and let your hands do the work.
  6. Roll out the pastry on a floured bench top to about a 3 mm thickness. You’ll not need all the dough. You’ll probably have enough left over to keep for another day.
  7. Line your pan with the dough so that it comes all the way up the sides of the pan with a little hanging over the edges. The dough will shrink a bit when it’s baked.
  8. Line the pastry case with foil or baking paper and fill with baking weights, beans or rice to hold the pastry in place. Then place the pastry base in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
  9. Preheat your oven to 220C.
  10. Bake the pastry case in the oven for around 15 minutes.
  11. Remove the foil and baking weights and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is cooked through and looks relatively dry. Remove it from the oven and set it aside.

To make the filling

  1. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C.
  2. Heat the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat until it sizzles.
  3. Add the leeks and sauté for around 10 minutes until they are soft and tender. Season with the salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Lightly blanch the asparagus in a saucepan of salted boiling water. Drain and add to the leeks with the chopped parsley.
  5. In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks, then add the cream, season and combine well.
  6. Scatter the asparagus and leeks into the pastry shell.
  7. Pour over the yolk and cream mixture and top with the grated cheese.
  8. Bake the tart for 45-60 minutes until the custard sets.
  9. Cool for around 10 minutes before serving.

Serve generous portions with a salad of fresh greens. Eat it with your mum if she’s around.  If not, skip the greens and sit on the couch. It’s comfort either way.

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