Spring Into the Season With A Delightful Asparagus Tart

Spring has  been my favorite time of year ever since I was a little girl.  Growing up in Norway, the winters were harsh, long, freezing cold and dark, which made people a bit depressed and not very social.   Having day light only for about five to six hours a day will do that to a person. But when the snow started melting, the days slowly were getting lighter and longer and I saw the first snowdrop flowers (“snøklokke” in Norwegian) pop up on the ground and the birch trees blooming,  I always turned cheerful and excited for warmer weather to come.

Synonymous with the change of season, came the new produce available to cook with.  I’ve always associated asparagus with spring; the bright green,  succulent and tender stalks offer a vibrant color signifying that nature is alive yet again,  and provides a wonderful taste and texture to any dish.  Besides being tasty, asparagus is also nutritious, low in calories, helps digestion, is rich in fiber and has anti-cancer benefits. Asparagus has been prized as an epicurean delight and for its medicinal properties for almost 2000 years. Only in season from April-May (in some areas through July), make sure you take advantage of picking up some bunches at your local market and hopefully you will want to try out my delicious asparagus tart – recipe below!

asptart2

SPRING TART WITH ASPARAGUS, WHITE BEANS AND PESTO

1 whole wheat tart dough * recipe to follow

1  15 oz can cannellini or white/navy beans

1/4 heaping cup raw cashews

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp pesto * (recipe to follow, or use store bought)

1 tsp kosher or sea salt

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp almond milk or soy milk

1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed

1 large Vidalia / sweet onion, sliced thin

Extra virgin olive oil for sauteeing

1-2 garlic cloves

To make bean filling:

Drain and rinse the beans, and add them to the clean bowl of a food processor. Add the cashews, pesto (see recipe below), salt and lemon juice. Pulse the food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides and pulse again. It should look like a rough paste.  Pulse a few more times, then sprinkle in the almond milk while the machine is running, helping to further smooth the paste. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  See further down how to make asparagus/onion topping.

To make whole wheat tart dough:

I chose to use whole wheat here for a healthier dough, but you can substitute regular all purpose flour if you’d like.  I love how easy this dough comes together, and with only three ingredients (not counting salt and water)! I use this as a base for many of my savory tarts as its healthy, easy and super delicious.  Use a scale to weigh your ingredients when baking, it’s always more accurate.

wholewheatpastrydough

 

About  9 oz /250 grams whole wheat flour

1 tsp kosher or sea salt

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup cold water

Grease a 9 inch tart pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 400F / 200C.

Mix the flour, sea salt and fresh herbs in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add in the extra virgin oil and mix with a fork. Add in the cold water and knead lightly until it comes together in to a ball.

wholewheatdoughball

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough using a rolling pin, large enough to fit your tart pan.  Carefully transfer the dough into your tart pan and line it neatly. Trim the excess dough off the edges and place the pan in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.

wholewheattartdough

Blind bake the crust: Prick the dough with a fork, then cover with foil and place either dry beans or as I did, decorative rocks (!) on top to keep the dough from puffing up.

tartblindbake

Place in oven and blind bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and remove beans/foil.  Meanwhile make the pesto.

To make pesto:

2 cups tightly packed fresh basil

1/2 cup walnuts, almonds or pine nuts

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 tbsp nutritional yeast (I use this in place of parmigiano cheese)

salt and pepper to taste

Place the basil, nuts, and garlic in a food processor – pulse to combine until mixture is coarsely ground. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream. Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper, pulse a few more times until combined. Scrape out into a container and set aside.

pesto

 

To make topping:

In a large saute pan, place 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil with a clove or two of smashed garlic over medium high heat, then add sliced onions, season with kosher salt and saute for 15 minutes or so until caramelized. Remove from pan and add asparagus stalks. Season with salt and saute over high heat for about 5 minutes or so until they begin to soften. Set aside.

caramelizedonions

 

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To assemble tart:

Spread the white bean/pesto mixture over the tart dough:

wholewheattartbeans

Then top with caramelized onions and asparagus.

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Place in oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes until tart is cooked through.  The tart is equally tasty warm right out of the oven or at room temperature. Serve with a nice green salad and your favorite full bodied white wine – this is absolutely mouthwatering and tastes just like spring!!

asptartsliced asptartpiece

 

 

Mamma’s Cauliflower Soup With a Twist

Although cauliflower is a winter hardy vegetable and is in season for most of the year here, it is summer time I associate with cauliflower soup growing up in Norway.   While cauliflower tastes good all over the world,  international cookbooks talk about the vegetable growing particularly well in  Norway  where has a milder taste, due to the abundance of day light it receives during the summer time.   Cauliflower thrives in Norway where it has been grown since the 17th century, and such has a long history there. In fact, Norwegians think of it as a “Norwegian” vegetable, although its origins are from the Mediterranean.

blomkal

Cauliflower even comes in purple!

cauliflowerpurple

At my house, my mom would harvest cauliflowers from our garden and make the best, creamiest and simplest, but most flavorful soup that we would enjoy for dinner with store bought “loff” (white baguette).   This white “exotic” bread was  considered a treat in my house, since my mom always made hearty homemade bread from whole wheat (typically only had at breakfast).  Cauliflower soup was considered a “light” dinner for my dad, and while he wasn’t always happy (he was such a meat and potato guy) it always brightened my day when I saw this on the table, and remains one of my fondest culinary memories from childhood.  Today, cauliflower soup is a traditional dish at confirmations and other celebratory occasions.

Having gone through culinary school and traveled the world, I sought to spice up my mom’s (mamma) soup a bit to make it a bit more layered and interesting flavor-wise.  Since I no longer use dairy products in my cooking, I chose a thick coconut milk in place of cow’s milk or cream, and I also added curry powder to the mix for a bit of a kick.  Super simple to make, this soup packs a ton of flavor and is easy to make ahead and easily freezable as well.  Try it out and let me know what you think!  Velbekomme!

BLOMKÅLSUPPE MED EN VRI (Cauliflower Soup With a Twist)

1 large head cauliflower, cut into thin florets

1 large sweet/Vidalia onion

2-3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 tbsp coconut oil

1-3 tbsp medium hot curry powder (depending on how spicy you prefer it – or you can omit this all together)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 x 15 oz can coconut milk

juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste.

In a large soup pot, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and add the onion and garlic.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.   Add the cauliflower florets and coat with the oil and season again with a bit of salt. Add the curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Cauliflowersaute

Add in the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook until cauliflower is soft, about 15-20 minutes.

Spoon the soup mixture in batches into a blender and puree until smooth, alternatively use a stick blender in the pot and puree.

cauliflowerbatch

cauliflowerpuree

Add the pureed cauliflower soup back into the soup put, add the coconut milk along with the lime juice and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper, garnish with some fresh mint (Or any other fresh herb you prefer) – and serve!

cauliflowersoup1

Fastelavn: Fat Tuesday Norwegian style

I’ve previously covered Fastelavn, the Norwegian word for Shrovetide, or better known as Fat Tuesday, and how we celebrate it, which you can access here.   This day is celebrated all over Scandinavia and has been an event since the 16th century; and  is synonymous with one thing: Fastelavensboller,  translated as sweet cardamom buns filled with vanilla whipped cream and jam, made from either strawberries or raspberries.  In Sweden, they have similar buns, called “semlor” or “semla” (singular) , where they stuff the buns with marzipan and cream.  The Danes take this day perhaps the most serious of all Scandinavians,  organizing party games for both children and grown ups, dress up, sing and fill the table with all kinds of goodies.

In addition to the delicious fastelavensboller,  this day also includes the widespread tradition of the birch twigs, fastelavnsris.   Even before Norway became a Christian country, there existed superstition around the birch twigs.  The belief was, that birch twigs that still had not grown leaves, had the power of fertility in them.  Farm fields, cows and humans were “spanked” (ris in Norwegian) with the twigs to ensure a fertile year.  Young girls and childless people especially were treated to the spanking. . When a young man met a young woman on the road, he gently spanked her with the birch twigs.  It was also common for couples to spank each other, and it was children’s right to spank the grown ups in the morning. The price for the spanking was always a cardamom bun – and here comes the tradition of “fastelavensboller”.    People will decorate their houses with colorful birch twigs around this time.

fastelavnsris

As you can read about Fastelavn in my previous blog post I won’t repeat more of this information again, but I was, however, particularly excited to develop a dairy free recipe (these cardamom buns do not require eggs either).   The toughest part seemed to re-create whipped cream, but was delighted to discover that all you need is some coconut cream, whip that up along with some vanilla extract or vanilla sugar (the more vanilla will cover up the coconut flavor of the whipped cream in case you don’t care for this flavor).

The more I bake without dairy, the more I wonder why I ever included this ingredient, as I seem to be able to create better recipes without it, and at the same time eliminate all the bad health effects of dairy.  This recipe turned out just the way I envisioned it: light, fluffy and packed with incredible flavor.  the coconut cream will be denser than dairy cream but in return, packs a ton more flavor.  I can’t think of many other dishes that are more delicious.  I hope you can limit yourself to eating just one of these- it was definitely a challenge for me!

FASTELAVNSBOLLER

Makes 8 buns

550 grams or about 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

100 grams or 1/2 cup sugar

50 grams (2 oz) fresh yeast or 1 pack dry yeast

2 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)

1 tsp baking powder

1 3/4 cup almond milk or soy milk

100 grams or roughly one stick of vegan butter (margarine)

almond milk or water for brushing buns

For filling:

1 can chilled coconut cream

2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla sugar

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Strawberry jam or jam of your choice, or 1 cup freshly sliced strawberries mixed with 1/2 cup sugar and the juice of 1/2 lemon

To make the buns:

Heat up the almond milk and butter until about 82F (27 degrees celcius).  crumble in the fresh yeast in a stand mixer bowl.  In a separate mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients with 3/4 of the all purpose flour. In a stand mixer, slowly add the dry ingredients to the liquid, and add in the last of the flour and mix for about 10-15 minutes until you have a smooth dough and the dough releases from the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size, 1-2 hours.

Remove dough from bowl and knead it a little bit on a working surface, and divide into eight equal parts. Roll them into nicely shaped round buns and place on a sheet tray sprayed with Pam.  Cover with a towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.

fastelavnsbollerise

While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 420 Fahrenheit (210 degrees Celcius).

Brush the buns with a little almond milk or water, and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden on top. Cool on a wire rack while making the filling.

fastelavnsbollerprecream

To make the whipped coconut cream:

Open the can of coconut cream without shaking it (you can chill the can overnight in the fridge). You want to scoop out the top layer of the thick cream in the can, this is what you will whip. You will have about 1/2 cup of clear liquid left in the can – save this for other recipes where you want some coconut flavor – it also makes a great coconut syrup! Whisk the coconut cream with the vanilla sugar/extract and confectioners sugar until firm, thick and fluffy.

Divide the buns in half and fill them with a big dollop of whipped coconut cream and spoon over a little strawberry jam or macerated fresh strawberries.   Dig in and enjoy!!  (I omitted the confectioner’s sugar topping on mine because I think these are sweet enough)

fastelavnsbolle