Cuisine - Terrific tarts

There's much to celebrate about late spring. Whenever I think about spring food, I dream about my ideal meal. Wonderful pink lamb, new potatoes with sweet spring butter and fresh mint, and a pile of bright green asparagus and broad beans. Gorgeous!

Spring is also the time of the year when butter and cheese is at its best. Our farmers are to be applauded for helping us to get through these difficult and trying financial times. The show has had to go on for our farmers, resulting in continued export earnings generated, and fresh primary produce from the land gracing our tables. Long may they continue to feed us.

Spring means the cost of fresh vegetables returns to normal with an abundance of lovely asparagus and baby vegetables like carrots, beans and those new potatoes. It's also a time when many are thinking about the entertaining season. A sunny Labour weekend was perfect for picnic fare and backyard barbecuing. I love making savoury tarts at this time of year, as they're the perfect lunchtime dish to share with friends, or can be cut into smaller pieces to nibble on while the barbecue chef gets his or her act together.

I used to labour over pastry making, as good pastry is essential to a good tart. But now my freezer always has a supply of ready-made flaky puff pastry bought from the supermarket.

You can find it in the freezer in rectangular pre-cut sheets, but be sure to select the brand that is made with pure butter as only this one will cook to a lovely crisp finish. My favourite pastry is the pre-rolled frozen flaky puff pastry made by Paneton, available in good stores.

And here's a useful tip. If you have left over pastry once you have rolled or laid it out to fit the tin, never scrunch it up into a ball. Layer all the leftover pieces of pastry on top of each other and gently roll them together. You can then use that, and it will maintain that lovely layered effect that puff pastry produces when cooked.

My recipe for this month uses fennel, carrots and asparagus but it is a template for using other vegetables. You could substitute onions for the fennel, and steam any other spring veggie – such as sprigs of cauliflower or broccoli, fresh green beans or broad beans – to top the tart. And if you cannot find haloumi, substitute slices of mozzarella.

Sweet fennel, spring vegetable and cheese tart

Sweet fennel, spring vegetable and cheese tart

400g pre-rolled flaky puff pastry
2 medium fennel bulbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten well
12 baby spring carrots
1 small bunch asparagus
150g haloumi cheese
3 tbsp grated parmesan

Line a tart tin 30cm x 20cm with the pastry. Slice the fennel. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the fennel, stirring occasionally until it is soft and golden. Allow to cool. Scrub the carrots and trim the asparagus and place in a steamer over a pan of boiling water. Steam the vegetables for  four minutes until almost tender but not really soft. Heat the oven to 220C. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg. Layer the cooked fennel into the tart case, spreading it evenly. Cover neatly with the vegetables. Slice the haloumi cheese into 12 pieces and lay these on top of the vegetables. Scatter the top with the grated cheese, adding some freshly ground black pepper and a little salt. Bake the tart for about 25 minutes until everything is golden and aromatic. Allow to stand for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serves 6, or can be cut into small squares to accompany drinks.

Lauraine Jacobs