Spring is in full throttle, and local vegetables are looking good.
There’s nothing like the sweet, tender leaves of spinach you can get this time of year. When lightly cooked, spinach has an earthy, lightly acidic, surprisingly complex flavor. Look for bright green, glossy leaves that aren’t crushed or wilted. Store fresh spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. Wash it several times in cold water to remove dirt and bugs (the only downside to buying farm stand spinach — it’s not pre-washed) before cooking.
Look for asparagus with sturdy stalks. Limp or bendy ones indicate vegetables past their prime. Store them as you would fresh flowers, submerging and inch or two of the cut ends in a jar of water in the refrigerator. They’re best enjoyed within a day or two of purchase. Before cooking, gently bend each stalk until it snaps, and discard the tough end.
Spring onions may look like scallions but are really just very young onions pulled from the ground before their bulbs have matured. More pungent than scallions but milder than mature onions, they can be used raw or cooked, and add zest to any dish.
Sweet, plump peas won’t arrive until June. When they do, be sure to buy them on the same day they are picked. For the sweetest peas, look for firm, bright green pods that aren’t too thick. Store them in the refrigerator and eat them within a day or two, as their sugars will convert to starches and they will lose their sweetness over time.
When temperatures are reliably warm, I might use the season’s bounty in a salad. But while the weather is still unpredictable, I like my vegetables cooked into something warm. This thin tart, made with buttery pastry, eggs and creamy cheese, is light enough for the season but substantial enough for dinner on a chilly night.
SPRING VEGETABLE TART
Feel free to vary the vegetables in this tart depending on what’s available.
For the dough:
1 1⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
5 ounces asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1⁄2-inch lengths except for the tips, which should remain whole
1 cup spring peas or frozen peas
2 1⁄2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 spring onions or scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
2 large eggs
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-milk ricotta cheese
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
4 ounces bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Bacon bits, optional
1. Make the dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, butter and salt. Mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add enough ice water to form a rough dough. Knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth ball. Press into a 4-inch disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Roll the dough into a 10-inch round and fit into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom, rolling over the top of the tart shell to remove excess dough. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork. Line with foil and then pie weights or dried beans, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the tart shell for 15 minutes, carefully remove the foil and pie weights, and bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes until the dough is pale golden. Transfer the shell to a wire rack to cool.
4. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Bring a small pot of salted water to boil. Add the asparagus and peas and cook for 1 minute. Place the spinach in a colander and drain the asparagus and peas. The hot water will wilt the spinach leaves. Run cold water over the vegetables, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the scallions or spring onions.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste. Stir in the chives.
6. Arrange the vegetables, in an even layer, in the tart shell. Sprinkle with bacon bits if desired. Smooth the cheese mixture over the vegetables and bacon. Bake until the cheese mixture is just set, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes before serving warm, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature. Makes 4 to 6 servings.