The weather can be capricious this time of year, but this savory tart, adapted from food writer Anna Jones' new vegetarian cookbook, "The Modern Cook's Year" (Abrams, 2019), suits any shade of spring. Store-bought puff pastry is topped with mustard-spiked crème fraîche, swirls of zucchini, custardy eggs and an abundance of fresh greens.
A colorful mess of textures and temperatures, it embodies that long-awaited seasonal shift.
Thanks to a foundation of store-bought puff pastry, this tart is also fairly easy, ideal for a low-fuss brunch. Purchased puff pastry is arguably just as good as homemade, especially if real butter is prominent on the ingredients list.
Jones' book exemplifies seasonal cooking, though it flirts with fastidiousness. This adaptation of her recipe nixes shelling fresh fava beans for frozen peas and swaps delicate baby zucchini for larger pieces of zucchini for a more forgiving approach. Too often, baking whole eggs results in overcooking, but if you arrange slabs of zucchini into deep nests on the puff pastry and nestle the eggs inside, the zucchini will slowly steam the eggs until they're creamy — and provide a buffer on timing.
You can cook the puff pastry and vegetables ahead of time, assemble and chill, then plop the eggs into their nooks just before baking. If you'd like, lose the mustard and crème fraîche and use mascarpone, garlicky Boursin cheese or even softened cream cheese instead. To serve a crowd, bypass the eggs; add some cooked asparagus, fennel or other seasonal vegetables; and drape with prosciutto or smoked salmon. Garnish with whatever herbs are kicking around in your crisper and fistfuls of barely dressed arugula or mâche.
Zucchini and Egg Tart With Fresh Herbs
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 1 hour
5 large eggs
1 (14-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 medium zucchini (6 to 7 ounces each), sliced lengthwise into 6 slabs, each about 1/4-inch thick
8 scallions, trimmed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 cup crème fraîche or mascarpone
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed
Any combination of fresh tarragon, small parsley or dill sprigs, and chopped chives, for garnish
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Beat one egg in a small bowl for egg wash.
On an inverted baking sheet, unfold the puff pastry to lay it out flat. Cut the puff pastry into a 10- by 12-inch rectangle, rolling out and trimming excess as needed. Slice a 3/4-inch strip from the perimeter of the puff pastry from each of the four sides. Brush the remaining puff pastry with the egg wash, then prick every few inches of the surface with a fork to prevent puffing. Place the pastry strips along the edge of all four sides to form a border that is raised like the edges of a picture frame, gently pressing to seal. Trim the excess, and brush border with egg wash.
On a second baking sheet, gently toss the zucchini and scallions with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Transfer both baking sheets to the oven (the sheet holding the puff pastry should still be inverted), and bake until vegetables are softened and pastry is puffed and golden, removing the vegetables after 10 minutes and the puff pastry after 20 to 25 minutes. Press the pastry's puffed center gently with your fingertips to deflate.
Stir the crème fraîche, mustard and lemon zest in a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Working within the border, brush the mixture over the pastry. Halve the zucchini crosswise at an angle. Arrange the zucchini and scallions on the surface of the pastry, draping the zucchini on its side and reinforcing with the scallions to create four circular nests to hold the eggs.
Crack each of the remaining four eggs into a small cup then transfer to a nest in the puff pastry. In a small bowl, toss the peas with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, and season with salt and pepper. Avoiding the eggs, sprinkle the tart with the peas. Bake until the egg whites are opaque and custardy and yolks are still runny, about 20 minutes. Season the eggs with salt and pepper, and top with torn fresh herbs. Cut the tart into quarters, and serve immediately.
Fare Exchange: An Asheville breakfast produces requests for out-of-the-ordinary gravy, jam and butters