Asparagus and Ricotta Tart with Thyme
Every year I make a Torta Pasqualina, an Italian savory vegetable tart, for Easter. The most traditional recipes use Swiss chard or spinach and sometimes include artichokes as well. Often they have whole eggs baked into them as well. I love this style, but I also like to experiment with other spring vegetables.
Ricotta and asparagus are two symbols of the earth’s renewal for Italians, and both of these fine ingredients figure prominently in Italian Easter recipes. This year I decided to work these well loved foods into my Torta Pasqualina. I’m happy to report, the recipe came out great and will definitely be a keeper for future Easter tables.
You’ll need a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom
For the crust:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
A teaspoon of fresh, chopped thyme
4 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, chilled
4 or 5 tablespoons of cold white wine, possibly a little more
For the filling:
1 big bunch medium thick asparagus, trimmed and peeled (if you can only find really skinny ones, don’t bother peeling them)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups whole milk ricotta
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus a little extra for the top
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
The grated zest from 1 small lemon
To make the pastry:
Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the salt, sugar, and the thyme. Give it a few pulses to blend the ingredients. Add the butter and the olive oil and pulse 2 or 3 times to break the butter up into bits. Add the white wine and pulse once or twice more or until you have a mass of moist clumps (the dough should hold together when you pinch a bit of it). If it still seems too dry, add a tiny bit more wine and pulse again. Dump the dough out onto a work surface and press it into a ball. Give it one or two quick kneads and then wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking and to bring up their green color. Cut the stems into thin rounds and leave the tips with about an inch of stalk attached whole.
In a small sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and the asparagus rounds (not the tips), season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until the shallot has softened, about 2 minutes. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Coat the tart pan with a little olive oil. Roll out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface and drape it into the pan, trimming off any overhang. Stick the tart pan in the refrigerator while you’re preparing the filling.
Mix all the remaining ingredients for the filling together in a bowl, seasoning it well with salt and black pepper. Add the sautéed asparagus rounds and shallot and mix everything well.
Pour the filling mixture into the tart shell. Arrange the asparagus spears on top in a star pattern. Scatter a sprinkling of parmigiano over the top and drizzle on a little fresh olive oil.
Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is set, about 40 minutes.