Sweet shellfish and nutty spears encased in shortcrust pastry
Crab and asparagus complement each other superbly, the sweetness of the shellfish off-setting the fresh nuttiness of the spears—the two flavours seem to sing a duet of sunshine and longer days. This recipe works well with the sweet, delicate ‘sprue’—the earliest asparagus that’s thinned from the beds. It’s no thicker than a pencil but still packed with flavour. Later in the season, thicker asparagus will work well too.
For the pastry:
180g plain flour
90g very cold butter, cut into small dice
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tbsp water (reserve the white for sealing the pastry)
For the filling:
300g tender asparagus, woody ends removed
1 egg yolk
200g fresh crab meat (½ white, ½ brown meat)
250ml double cream
36cm x 12cm rectangular or 30cm round, loose-bottomed metal tart tin
Heat the oven to 200C. First, make the pastry. Put the flour into a large bowl with a pinch of salt, then add the diced butter. Take a table knife or pastry scraper and continue to cut the butter into smaller pieces in the flour.
Now rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolk and water.
Use the knife or pastry scraper to cut in the liquid and then pull the mix together with your hands, trying not to overwork it, until you have a ball of pastry. Alternatively, fling the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and whizz until you have crumbs. Add the liquid and pulse the mixture until it comes together.
Wrap the pastry and chill in the fridge for about 10 mins, before rolling out to fit your tin. Chill again for at least 30 mins.
Blind bake the pastry: cover it with greaseproof paper, fill it with baking beans or dried pulses and place in the oven for about 15 mins or until the pastry is almost ready. Remove the paper and beans, prick the pastry with a fork and place back in the oven for another 5-10 mins, until the really dry and crisp. Brush with a little beaten egg white and bake for an extra 2 mins. This may seem a rigmarole, but soggy pastry can be the ruination of a perfect tart.
Turn the oven down to 180C. Cut the asparagus spears to fit the tart. Plunge into boiling water for about 1 min if pencil-thin and just 2-3 mins for finger-thick spears. Drain and refresh in a bowl of cold water.
Beat the eggs and yolk with a fork, stir in the cream and white crabmeat and season with a little salt and pepper. Once the tart shell is ready, spread a layer of the brown crab meat over the base (this is where most of the crab favour is) and then pour over the crab custard. Arrange the asparagus on top of the tart and carefully place in the oven for 20-25 mins, until the filling is set and just wobbly.
Allow to sit for about 15 mins before removing the tin and serving warm with a simple salad and perhaps some new potatoes.
Recipe: Jenny Chandler
Image: Kim Lightbody