Greatest hits recipe: Ricotta cheese, phyllo part of a perfect brunch dish
This is our popular asparagus tart with herbed ricotta cheese.
Editor's note: We had some bumps on the road to posting today, so we’re bringing back one of our most popular spring Sunday recipes, first published in 2019. Dates have been updated for 2023.
By Kathy Morrison
I know, I know -- it's a little early for local asparagus. But those green spears already are showing up in supermarkets, and I am more than ready after too many months of winter squash and spinach. Artichokes are coming in, too, but asparagus is more versatile, not to mention so much easier to prepare.
My homeland is the Central Valley: I grew up in Stockton, aka California's Asparagus Capital for many, many years. The planting acreage in the state has dropped considerably, and Delta asparagus is harder to find these days, but it's not completely gone. The San Joaquin Asparagus Festival (April 14-16, 2023) came along after I had moved away, and it nearly died a few years ago, but Stockton still is identified with this lovely early-spring vegetable. So consider this a nod to a Central Valley tradition, and keep a sharp eye out for local asparagus to show up at farmers markets. This recipe works especially well for brunch on Easter (April 9). The supply should be plentiful by then.
A few notes: I prefer fat asparagus (which comes from younger plants, did you know?) because it grills so well, but this recipe works better with the skinnier spears, medium to pencil-thin. If you buy it ahead, treat the spears gently. I find that fitting the whole bunch into a wide drinking glass half-filled with water, then putting it in the refrigerator, helps keep the spears from drying out.
There is one ingredient here from my garden: the fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley. I finally have enough to use in recipes. Plant a sixpack and you'll have plenty, even if one plant bolts early. But now I have to work on thyme; I really need more, and who doesn't? (Sorry, gardener pun).
This tart uses phyllo dough as a base. Phyllo can seem scary, with all those layers, but it's easier to work with if it's properly thawed. Put the frozen sheets in the refrigerator overnight, and they'll be ready when you need them. And don't worry if the sheets rip when you're working with them. Just keep layering them up, and no one will know or care when the tart is baked.
Herbed ricotta, asparagus and phyllo tart
Adapted slightly from Cooking Light
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
12 frozen phyllo sheets (14-by-9-inch), thawed
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 bunch medium asparagus spears, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir together the ricotta, parsley, milk, thyme, garlic and 3/8 teaspoon salt.
Place 1 phyllo sheet on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (Cover remaining dough to keep it from drying out.) Lightly brush phyllo sheet with oil, and top with another phyllo sheet. Repeat layers with remaining phyllo sheets and oil, reserving 1 teaspoon oil to brush on asparagus.
Trim asparagus to 6 1/2 inches long (save the cut ends for stir fry). Spread ricotta mixture on the phyllo stack, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange asparagus spears side by side over ricotta mixture. Brush asparagus with remaining 1 teaspoon oil.
Bake until phyllo is browned and crisp, 18 to 22 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and top with the shaved Parmesan.
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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.
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Dig In: Garden Checklist
For week of March 26:
Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:
* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.
* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.
* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.
* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.
* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.
* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.
* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.
To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.
* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.
* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.
* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.
* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.
* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.
* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.
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