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A few weeks ago I had some friends over for a dinner party just for fun. I wanted to make something that could be prepared earlier in the afternoon, didn’t skimp on taste, and still felt like a meal you wouldn’t get everyday. I tend to think that we are past the era of roasting a big cut of something, slicing it, and presenting it to the table with applause, so I lean more towards bistro style bites. I decided to make asparagus and gruyere tarts which despite their lack of meat can act as the main piece in any dinner. A fresh tomato mix and green salad acted as the sides, while simple cookies and squares of dark chocolate rounded out the meal on the sweet side. The entire menu was assembled before the guests arrived and all that was left to do was pop the baking sheets into the oven in between appetizers and cocktails. The tarts puffed up to create golden rustic squares of melted cheese and bright green asparagus, which looked especially nice next to a pile of fresh salad and diced summer tomatoes. However, the best scene was watching the night drift from full plates and family style passed food, to melted candles and rows of wine glasses waiting to be topped off in between stories.

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Asparagus and Gruyere Tarts with Balsamic Glaze – Serves 8

1 pack frozen puff pastry
3 cups grated gruyere cheese
appx. 50 stalks fresh asparagus
1 egg
salt and pepper

– Leave puff pastry in fridge to thaw for a few hours. In the meantime grate cheese, trim asparagus ends, and peel each spear.
– Once pastry can be unfolded, lay onto a floured surface and gently roll out until sheet makes 4 smaller squares about 4″x3″
– Transfer each individual tart to a baking sheet lined with parchment (4 tarts per sheet)
– Score the edges of each tart to make a border, then prick the inside multiple times with a fork to prevent any bubbles.
– Brush interior with the beaten egg and top with a generous amount of gruyere making sure to leave the border exposed.
– Line 6-7 asparagus spears on top, trimming to the length of the tart.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake according to puff pastry package.

For the balsamic glaze:

– Bring 1 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil in a saucepan, lower to a simmer and let reduce until vinegar resembles a thick syrup (think chocolate syrup).
– Once tarts are platted, drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar.
– The vinegar can be reduced ahead of time and kept in a container. When ready to use place container in the microwave for 10 seconds to loosen.