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Melissa Clark, a staff writer for the New York Times food section, is a self-proclaimed Francophile. As a kid, she spent summers in France, traversing the country with her family in search of a singular shared love: food. They’d buy up fresh produce at local markets, devoting the rest of the day to cook, or swing by brasseries and cafes, sitting down for the kind of unfussy French meals you often find in adorable small towns. 

Related Reading: Melissa Clark’s Maple Syrup Pecan Pie Is a Star

Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France, $24.72 on Amazon

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Melissa has channeled that childhood joy of French cooking into her new book, “Dinner in French.” The comprehensive cookbook boasts recipes inspired by her times spent in France: savory gruyère bread with ham, ratatouille sheet-pan chicken, scalloped potato gratin. Dessert is just as French, with the likes of cocoa hazelnut financiers and a bright yellow Meyer lemon tart with olive oil and fleur de sel. The sections, too, are divided into a list of Frenchified chapters (think units devoted solely to eggs and cheese and quiches), so you can turn straight to your favorite part of France—in the form of food. 

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For those who adore savory French tarts, you’ll want to look at Melissa’s recipe for one crowned with asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon. All you’ll need is one thawed sheet of all-butter puff pastry (store bought, to make things super easy), which is rolled out, swiped with a mixture bound by creme fraiche, goat cheese, egg, garlic, tarragon, and nutmeg, then finished off with asparagus spears, a drizzling of olive oil, and some grated parmesan. It’s baked in the oven for 30 minutes, then ready to eat immediately. And you won’t want to wait: That sweet smell of butter and cheese will almost make you believe that you, too, are cooking out of a chateau in the south of France.

Reprinted from Dinner in French. Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Clark. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Laura Edwards. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Tarragon Tart Recipe

Because you don’t have to make your own crust, this gorgeous asparagus-striped tart is so easy it almost feels like cheating. But it’s not—it’s just one of those perfectly simple yet stunning recipes that every French cook has in their repertoire: effortlessly chic, company-ready. Be sure to buy a good all-butter brand of puff pastry. There are so few ingredients in this recipe that each one makes an impact. If you can manage to serve this tart warm, within an hour of baking, it will be at its absolute best, with crisp pastry that shatters into buttery bits when you bite down and still-runny cheese. But it’s also excellent a few hours later, should you want to get all your baking done before your guests arrive. If tarragon isn’t your favorite herb, you can use chives, basil, or mint instead. And if you can manage to trim all the asparagus to the same length, this tart will be especially neat and orderly looking.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Tarragon Tart

Serves: 6-8
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) fresh goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated or minced
  • 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus more for serving
  • ½ tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) crème fraîche, room temperature
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface
  • 1 sheet or square all-butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen (about 9 to 14 ounces; brands vary)
  • 8 ounces thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
  • 1½ ounces parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about ½ cup)
  1. Heat the oven to 425°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon or a fork to mash together the goat cheese, egg, garlic, tarragon, lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg until smooth. Switch to a whisk and beat in the crème fraîche until smooth.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to form a 13 × 11-inch rectangle about ⅛ inch thick. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score a ½-inch border around the edges of the puff pastry.
  4. Spread the crème fraîche mixture evenly inside the scored border. Line up the asparagus spears on top, and brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle some salt and the grated parmesan over the asparagus.
  5. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let it cool on the cookie sheet for at least 15 minutes before serving (or for up to 4 hours). Then sprinkle black pepper, red pepper flakes (if using), the shaved parmesan, tarragon leaves, and a drizzle of oil on top.
  6. Thinking Ahead Tart: You can assemble the tart 1 day in advance; but reserve the sprinkling of salt and grated parmesan until right before baking. Loosely cover the tart and store it in the refrigerator.

Header image by Laura Edwards.

Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
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