With sheltering in place the norm for most of us these days, this week’s Italian Spring Tart is a simple recipe made with easy-to-find ingredients that won’t have you driving all over town trying to track them down.

Featuring asparagus spears atop a savory mascarpone cheese and fresh herb spread surrounded by a flaky puff pastry crust, this spring tart is bursting with the flavors of our fresh, new season.

Puff pastry is the base for this tart, and another item that is currently in good supply at our grocery stores. You can find puff pastry in the freezer section of most stores, usually in packs of two sheets. Only one sheet is used for this recipe, and I thaw it at room temperature for about 30 minutes before rolling it out just a bit to soften the dough and smooth out the folds.

I place the pastry sheet on a piece of parchment paper before rolling it out, so that I can easily transfer the paper with the pastry onto a baking sheet without breaking it. Don’t worry if your pastry sheet loses its neat rectangle shape when you roll — the pastry will still puff up beautifully with a lovely, rustic elegance.

A mixture of mascarpone cheese combined with egg, lemon zest, scallions, parsley, basil and garlic is spread atop the pastry, followed by a layer of fresh asparagus. For even more Italian flavor, you could add a sprinkling of torn prosciutto strips atop the cheese spread before adding the asparagus. To ensure an impressive crust on your tart, be sure to leave a half-inch border around the tart free of any ingredients other than a light brushing of egg.

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A sheet of puff pastry is rolled out until smooth, then topped with a layer of mascarpone and herb cheese spread and fresh asparagus spears. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A sheet of puff pastry is rolled out until smooth, then topped with a layer of mascarpone and herb cheese spread and fresh asparagus spears. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Mascarpone is a wonderfully creamy Italian cheese, similar to American cream cheese but with a higher fat content that makes it even richer. In Fargo-Moorhead, you can find mascarpone cheese in 8-ounce tubs in the specialty cheese section of most deli areas (even my little Hornbacher’s Express store on South University carries it). If you can’t find mascarpone, you could substitute with regular cream cheese or Italian ricotta cheese.

Asparagus, one of my favorite springtime vegetables, is the star of this tart. To prepare the spears, I trim the bottom inch or so off each one and then cut each stalk in half before placing it on the tart. Asparagus is currently available at our local grocery and bulk stores, and when buying, I look for slender, firm stalks (as thick ones can be woody in texture) with purplish tips.

Spring is the season for fresh asparagus. Look for slender, firm stalks with purplish-hued tips. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Spring is the season for fresh asparagus. Look for slender, firm stalks with purplish-hued tips. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

This Italian Spring Tart is an excellent option for a vegetarian Easter side dish or appetizer, or pair it with a glass of dry white wine and a simple green salad for a light spring supper.

Mascarpone, an Italian-style cream cheese, is mixed with an egg and fresh lemon zest, then flavored with fresh scallions, parsley, garlic and basil. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Mascarpone, an Italian-style cream cheese, is mixed with an egg and fresh lemon zest, then flavored with fresh scallions, parsley, garlic and basil. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Cooking has been therapy for me during this period of isolation, and our Easter weekend will be filled with traditional favorites, including Goo Goo’s Baked Ham, Sarello’s Whipped Potatoes, Sarah’s Hot Cross Buns, Easter Egg Strata and Triple Coconut Cream Pie.

I would love to know how you’ll be celebrating the upcoming Easter and Passover holidays and wish you peace and joy throughout these holy seasons.

Flaky layers of pastry puff up around the edges of the Italian Spring Tart for a crispy, buttery crust. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Flaky layers of pastry puff up around the edges of the Italian Spring Tart for a crispy, buttery crust. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Italian Spring Tart

Serves: 4 to 6

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of the recipe

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 large egg

1 cup (8 ounces)

mascarpone cheese (may also use cream cheese or ricotta), room temperature

1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 scallions, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)

12 ounces asparagus, ends trimmed and stalks cut in half

Olive oil for drizzling

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and position oven rack in lower third of the oven. Unfold the sheet of pastry onto a piece of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to gently roll the pastry out about half an inch wider on all sides. Slide the parchment with the pastry onto a baking sheet; set aside.

In a medium bowl, use a fork to beat the egg until frothy. Lightly brush a half-inch border of the beaten egg around the pastry.

In the bowl with the remaining egg, add the mascarpone, lemon zest, salt and pepper and use a wooden spoon to mix until combined. Add the scallions, parsley, basil and garlic and stir until fully incorporated.

Spread the cheese mixture in an even layer over the pastry, leaving the half-inch egg border uncovered. Top with asparagus spears and lightly brush each with olive oil. Sprinkle asparagus with kosher salt and black pepper.

Bake in the oven until the crust is puffy and golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cutting board (use the parchment paper to lift and transfer the tart). Slice as desired and serve.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • The cheese mixture may be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes for easy spreading.
  • For a variation, add a sprinkling of torn prosciutto strips to the cheese layer before adding the asparagus.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.