Asparagus and poached egg puff tarts with parmesan and basil


For the tarts

  • plain flour, for dusting
  • 500g/1lb 2oz puff pastry
  • 200g/7oz low-fat cream cheese
  • ¼ lemon, finely grated zest only
  • flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 30 medium asparagus spears
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten, to glaze (alternatively use a little milk)

For the topping

  • 6 medium free-range eggs
  • 25g/1oz parmesan, made into shavings with a potato peeler
  • good handful small basil leaves
  • drizzle extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Preparation method

  1. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment and set aside.
  2. Dust a little flour on a clean work surface and roll out the puff pastry to a 28x30cm/11x12in rectangle about the thickness of a £1 coin. Trim the edges so that the sides are nice and straight and neat. Cut the pastry in half down the length and then into thirds across the width to give six 10x14cm/4×5½in rectangles.
  3. Put the pastry rectangles on the baking tray, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes (or freeze for 10 minutes) for the pastry to firm up. It is important to do this so that when the puff pastry goes into the oven the flour cooks before the butter melts ensuring a much lighter pastry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (200C fan). Mix the cream cheese and lemon zest together in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Trim the asparagus so that each stem is 10cm/4in long (you can use the trimmings to make a quick soup or add to a pasta sauce).
  5. Once firm, remove the pastry from the fridge (or freezer) and use a sharp knife to mark a 1cm/½in wide border around each rectangle. Then, using a crosshatch pattern, mark the border so each pastry shape resembles a picture frame. Take a fork and prick the centre of each shape about 10 times, right through to the baking tray. Brush the border with the beaten egg (or milk), making sure that it does not go down the sides of the pastry (if this happens, wipe it away with your finger otherwise the egg will stick the layers of the pastry together and stop the pastry from rising).
  6. Divide the lemony cream cheese between the six tarts, spreading it out with the back of the spoon and making sure that it stays inside the ‘frame’. Lay five asparagus spears in a single layer, touching each other and pointing in the same direction on each tart, and push them down slightly.
  7. Bake the tarts in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up nicely and is firm and golden-brown where it has risen.
  8. About 10 minutes before the tart is ready, pour about 4cm/1½in of water into a sauté pan or a deep frying pan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down to bring the water to a gentle simmer. Crack an egg into a very small bowl or tea cup and then slide the egg into the water. Repeat with all of the eggs, spacing them apart. Cook them for about 3-4 minutes, or until the white is cooked but the yolk still soft. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a warm plate.
  9. Remove the tarts from the oven and divide between six serving plates. Sit a poached egg on top of each tart and scatter over the parmesan and basil leaves. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil, if liked, and serve.