Among my most exciting food experiences, I count finding my first edible morel mushroom popping up from the forest floor, sitting down to a dinner reservation that took six months to get, hooking a yellowtail off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico, and … discovering spring asparagus at the farmers market.
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Plus, springtime asparagus is easy. It does not need to be peeled. The stalks won’t take on a woody texture until later in the season. Its delicate flavor is easily overcome by spices or heavier fare, so it’s best to keep preparation minimal. The most common approach is to simply steam the stalks just enough to tenderize them and garnish with a touch of lemon to complement asparagus’ natural tang.
And this classic approach is just fine. But since asparagus is my No. 1 vegetable, I’m always on the lookout for new tricks to try with this short-seasoned favorite. Recently, I needed something I could put together quickly and take to a party, something that could work warm or room temperature, something I could transport and deliver ready to place on the table. That something became an asparagus mousse pie. Although admittedly rich, it’s as smooth and creamy as the best chocolate mousse but surprisingly light on the palate. And it’s so simple you should not feel compelled to explain yourself when accepting accolades.
Asparagus Mousse Pie
This mousse pie deserves your favorite pie crust recipe, but to speed up the prep time, it’s perfectly OK to resort to your best store-bought, frozen crust. Look for one made with real butter to best complement the filling.
A Vitamix blender, which cooks the custard as it blends, is essential to achieving the mousse-like texture of this pie. It also makes preparation a snap.
As fast as this recipe is, it’s also important to not get ahead of yourself. Make sure the pie crust is cool before turning on the blender. The first time I attempted this, the filling set up in the blender while waiting for the pie crust to bake. I was able to fold the custard into the pie, and it turned out tasty but pretty fluffy. I love this pie served warm, but have to admit that chilled leftovers were just as good, maybe better.
1 frozen pie crust (homemade or store-bought)
1 pound asparagus, medium-sized stalks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus enough to coat tips
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
2 scallions (green onions, white and green parts)
2 ounces shredded asiago cheese
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove pie shell from freezer, prick bottom with a fork, line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake until the pie edges are lightly browned, approximately 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven, discard paper and pie weights and return to oven for 5 minutes until bottom is lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and let cool.
2. To prepare the asparagus for blanching, cut 3-inch tips from stalks and reserve. Rough chop remainder of asparagus. Place chopped stalks in a medium-sized pot of salted, boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of iced water to quickly stop the cooking, then drain. Add tips to same boiling water for less than 1 minute. Transfer to ice water, drain and set aside for garnish.
3. While the pie shell is cooling, add olive oil, eggs, salt, heavy cream, milk and blanched asparagus stalks to a high-speed blender (must be capable of generating frictional heat above 160 degrees).
4. Turn the blender on to its highest setting and process for 6 minutes until it becomes a thick and smooth mousse consistency. It will be fully cooked, but not fully set.
5. Prepare topping. Finely slice scallions. Cut asparagus tips in half (1½-inch length). Toss together, adding a bit of olive oil to moisten and ¼ teaspoon of course salt.
6. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Pour filling into the cooled, pre-baked pie crust. The mousse will start to set immediately. Cover with topping and sprinkle with grated asiago cheese and crumbled feta cheese. Place in oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until cheese is melted. If the pie crust edges are in danger of becoming too dark, protect with a simple tented foil collar. Let cool for 10 minutes and serve warm or room temperature.
Note: For those without an ultra high-speed blender, you can prepare this pie using a traditional custard pie approach. Blend the custard ingredients in a regular blender until it takes on a smooth consistency, pour the filling it into the pre-baked pie shell, and bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes, until the pie is set but still jiggles slightly in the center when tapped. It will provide the same flavor, but result in a custard-style thickness, unlike the fluffy texture of the speedier version.
Main photo: Asparagus Mousse Pie. Credit: Caroline J. Beck