Asparagus and sorrel puff tart

These words and the recipe were originally published on Borough Market’s website. Head there for daily updated recipes and features.

My first post introducing the forthcoming The Borough Market Cookbook: recipes and stories from a year at the market ended with a recipe that represented seasonal market shopping. Based on a quick walk around Borough, I’d spotted wild garlic and purple sprouting broccoli (both bang in season in early April, and the kind of produce you’re most likely to find at farmers markets and independent greengrocers than if traipsing along a supermarket aisle) and I found that those quickly inspired me to pick up a few other specialist items from Market traders and cook up a vibrant spring pesto (Parmesan from Bianca e Mora, vivid, shelled pistachios from Oliveology, an unusual shape of pasta from Gastronomica). The recipes in the cookbook are generally sparked by a similar style of seasonal shopping and eating — what might market ingredients lead you to cook throughout the year?

‘Eating seasonally’ isn’t only about eating ingredients at their peak at a certain time of year, though. To me, it also encompasses appetite, as well as food prompted by seasonal events. So throughout the cookbook there are recipes and stories reflecting these themes too.

By ‘appetite’, I mean what kind of food do we want to eat at different times.

Yes, in part this reflects the ingredients that are around at a given time (the drivers for seasonal eating are not exclusive of each other), but it’s definitely about disposition as well as availability. For example, as we move, finally and definitively into spring and soon towards summer, the foods we desire morph from comforting, warming and filling, to vibrant, invigorating and light. More specifically, in May, my mood and indeed the weather makes me want savoury tarts, large salads, and often more of a mezze style of eating, compared to the previous months of filling meat and two veg meals or stodgy bowl food.

Our eating urges and desires are also affected — both consciously and sub-consciously — by events, celebrations and traditional feasts. Christmas, obviously, has us hankering after mulled wine, mince pies, stuffings, Stilton and so on. The mention of Chinese New Year will provoke many to flick through their recipe books for something to suit that moment. Most Brits feel the urge for a pancake topped with lemon and sugar on pancake day towards the taste a pancake. You get the idea.

One occasion that has just been celebrated at Borough Market is Saint George’s Day — the feast day of England’s (and many other countries’) patron saint. There were red and white banners throughout the Market, plays, kitchen demonstrations, brilliant British meats and even human tower makers (‘castellers’) from Barcelona. The cookbook includes a short essay and brilliant images capturing celebrations (other similar sections cover Christmas scenes and Apple Day).

What does St George’s Day make us want to eat, though? Despite it being a feast day, we have few (or no?) traditional meals or well known dishes to commemorate it. The Market’s acknowledgement of sustainable, slow and quality animal husbandry and butchery is totally logical and a good place to get the creative juices flowing. But there’s another ingredient that’s intrinsically linked to the day — 23 April — and that perhaps ought to be more synonymous with England’s celebration of Saint George than it already is: asparagus.

The British asparagus season officially begins on Saint George’s Day each year. I can’t remember when I first joined the two dates, but I don’t mind admitting it’s a relatively recent realisation. Now, though, the mere mention of Saint George’s Day quickly reminds me that these green spears (see, totally appropriate to a Medieval dragon slayer!) are ready to go, and so prompts me to get buying and cooking them.

With seasonal ingredients, a change in appetite, and topical eating urges in mind, I’m moved to head down to Borough Market and pick up a few bunches of asparagus. When there I spot lemony sorrel leaves, and decide to combine those two springtime ingredients as the lead players in a puff pastry tart. It’s extremely simple: just unfurl ready-rolled puff pastry, score a border and spread a sorrel, creme fraiche and Parmesan paste over the middle to create a sharp base layer, arrange blanched asparagus on top and bake for 20-25 minutes, then finish with a little more shredded sorrel. Served with a sharply-dressed green salad, the last of the ‘winter’ Marinda tomatoes or first of the good, beefy Mediterranean ones, it’s exactly what I want to eat right now.

Asparagus and sorrel puff pastry tart

  • 500g British asparagus (medium-fine thickness spears)
  • 50g sorrel leaves
  • 200ml full fat creme fraiche
  • 25g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon light olive oil
  • 320g ready-rolled all butter puff pastry sheet

Preheat the oven to 200C fan, 220C non fan, gas mark 7.

Place a wide saucepan of well salted water over a hot hob and wait for it to come to the boil.

Meanwhile, snap the woody ends from the asparagus, discard those ends and set the spears to one side. Chop 3/4 of the sorrel leaves very finely. Decant the creme fraiche into a bowl and stir the chopped sorrel and Parmesan through it.

Once the water is at a rapid boil, add the asparagus spears and blanch them for 30 seconds. Drain the asparagus through a sieve, chill completely under running cold water, then leave to dry for a minute or two. Finally, roll the asparagus in the olive oil, so each is glossy.

Unroll the pastry sheet (if your pastry is not ready-rolled, set the pastry block on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to a rectangle around 2-3mm thick). Put a sheet of baking parchment on a large baking tray that will comfortably fit that pastry. Lay the pastry flat on top, then lightly score a border 3cm from the edge using the blunt edge of a knife. Spread the creme fraiche and sorrel paste over the top, right up to the edges of the border, then arrange the asparagus spears across the middle. The tart looks good and cuts well if they’re lined up in a neat row, standing to attention like soldiers.

Put the baking tray towards the top of the now hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry edges are puffed and golden, the creme fraiche base bubbling and burnished, and the asparagus slightly charred.

Allow to cool for five minutes, then finely shred the remaining sorrel and sprinkle over the top.
Serve with a sharply-dressed green salad and some tomatoes in good olive oil on the side. The tart is also enjoyable if left to chill to room temperature.