I’ve been feeling home sick for France, so I whipped up a tarte aux asperges et jambon avec poivre noir au fromage de chèvre, otherwise known as a black pepper goat cheese asparagus and prosciutto tart.
One of my favorite things (there are many) about French cuisine, the kind that is practiced in country kitchens without recipes by des grands-mères (grandmothers), is its relative simplicity. You have goat cheese, pastry and vegetables in your fridge? Perfect. Let’s make a tart!
Food is an essential part of French life. As soon as they have finished one meal, you can often find them discussing what to eat for their next meal, as North Americans speak of hockey plays and hiking trails, beer options and movie reviews, in that deeply serious and endless kind of way.
When I was first learning the language, I lived with a French family (who has since become a serious extension of my family) who spoke varying levels of English. Mamie, the grandmother, could say only two things in English – “shut the door, open the window” and “bad cat.” The son spoke words instead of phrases, the daughter pestered me for slang in her broken English and the father – fluent in not just two but four languages – spoke French constantly, fluidly, as if I was already an aficionado. I knew only the basic French vocabulary: travel, pleasantries and, of course, food.
So on those long gorgeous afternoons in the French Alps when the breeze trickled thick and warm like syrup between the mountain passes, Mamie and I would talk food. The mother and I would cook dinner made from fresh ingredients dug from the fragrant earth dedicated to produce in the corner of their yard. The son and I would combine meticulous amounts of sugar and eggs to make dessert right after breakfast. The father would bring home bottles of regional liquor and chocolates, explaining their history and production in a deeply patient Franglish. This was not only how I learned to cook, but how I learned to speak French and to love the country that taught me both.
You don’t have to lattice the asparagus but I think it makes for a beautiful tart. If you don’t know how or have trouble with the method, The Kitchn has a great how-to page here.
- 1 bunch asparagus (approx. 12-16 spears)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1½ teaspoons lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 4 slices of prosciutto
- 8 ounces fresh goat cheese
- 3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1½ tablespoons black peppercorns, roughly ground
- ½ lbs pastry dough
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out the pastry and trim to the size of your tart pan (mine is 8 inches across and 2 inches deep). Layer parchment paper or Saran wrap over the pastry and fill the shell with pie weights, rice or beans to weigh it down while it bakes. Place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden.
- Trim the ends of the asparagus and place in a shallow baking dish with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest and seasonings. Toss to evenly coat and then bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Flip the asparagus and return to the oven for an additional 5-7 minutes.
- Tear or chop the prosciutto into roughly even squares and layer over the top of the baked pastry.
- For the whipped goat cheese, combine it with the mascarpone, lemon zest and black pepper in a food processor and blitz for 60 to 90 seconds. Spread it evenly over the prosciutto topped pastry.
- Arrange the cooked asparagus on top in whichever design you want. Serve at room temperature.