Spring is a marvelous time for entertaining, and I like to make the most of the seasonal produce like fresh asparagus. This elegant little torte is delicious and unusual, but highlights the lovely flavor of spring’s best asparagus. I add just a little lemon zest and shallot to bring out that freshness because I find the addition of herbs or spices unnecessarily overpowers the bright asparagus. The end result is a lovely pale jade green topped with the darker asparagus spears in an attractive pattern.
Make sure to remove the very bottom of the asparagus spears that can be hear hard and woody before cooking, then simmer them in the cream until very, very soft, so you can create a smooth puree. I find this to be a very elegant dish served in small slices as an appetizer or a light lunch, sitting on a few lovely spring lettuce leaves or with a full blown salad. But it can also be served as a spreadable appetizer like a savory cheesecake with crackers or toasted baguette rounds. Make this in a small, 6-inch springform pan, like this one, an inexpensive tool I find very useful. If you don’t have one, line a 6-inch baking dish with parchment paper with some overhang to lift it out.
Spring Asparagus Torte
About 30 buttery crackers (such as Ritz), about 1 ½ sleeves
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces fresh asparagus, plus 5 or 6 spears for the top
1 small shallot
¾ cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ Tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a small, 6 – inch springform pan with cooking spray and set it on a rimmed baking sheet.
- In a food processor (a mini is fine), process the crackers until they are fine crumbs, then add the butter and pulse until all the crumbs are moistened. Dump the crumbs into the prepared springform and pat into an even, tight layer. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Cut off the hard, woody bottom inch of the 4 ounces of asparagus spears, then cut the asparagus and shallot into small pieces and place in a small saucepan. Pour in the heavy cream and bring just to a bubble over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, until the asparagus and shallot is very soft. Transfer the mixture to the cleaned-out bowl of the food processor and process until smooth.
- Beat the cream cheese, cornstarch and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until smooth and combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl. Add the asparagus puree, season well with salt and pepper and beat until completely combined and smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan set on the baking sheet. Cut the extra asparagus spears into pieces that fit attractively arranged on the top of the torte. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until lightly brown at the edges and only slightly jiggly in the center. Cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but overnight is good. Unclip the springform ring and serve, either sliced into small wedges or with spreading knives and crackers.