Nigel Slater’s recipes for new potatoes with asparagus, and for potato and thyme tarts
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Nigel Slater’s recipes for new potatoes with asparagus, and for potato and thyme tarts

Nov 09, 2023

With asparagus or in a tart, new potatoes bring the nutty, sweet taste of early summer

The new potatoes are here – tiny, kidney-shaped and with soft, flaky skins. Lightly scraped and steamed, their creamy yellow flesh has a sweet nuttiness that is the essence of early summer. I toss them, still warm from the steamer, in a vivid dressing of fresh herbs and olive oil with a kick of green chilli. The trick is to dress them lightly so you get the best of both dressing and potato. You can add other seasonal treats, too: asparagus tips, carefully steamed purple sprouting (tossed very gently as it is inclined to break up) and early samphire, whose saltiness will bring out the best in the new potatoes. (Seaweed is often used as fertiliser for the Jersey variety.)

Those little potatoes ended up in a tart, too. Steamed, sliced and teamed with mozzarella and crème fraîche, they made an appearance with a salad of curls of spring carrot and radish, a hint of mustard and mint in the dressing. The first batch we ate warm from the oven, the next were stuffed into old toffee tins as sustenance for an outing, and travelled well enough, despite their fragile crust.

From what was a late start, everything feels as if it is catching up. The asparagus is coming down in price and the first gooseberries will be with us soon. I have spotted loquats in the shops. Chilled, their pale orange flesh has a refreshing acidity, with a flavour not dissimilar to that of a juicy apricot. A real treat for early summer. Heaven knows, we all deserve it.

It is best to dress the potatoes as soon as they are cooked, so the dressing goes on while the potatoes are still warm. Once the dressing is made, tweak the seasoning to suit, with a little more salt or lemon juice, or perhaps a pinch of sugar, as you wish. Serves 4

new potatoes 400gasparagus 2 bunches (about 24 spears)

For the dressing:green chillies 2, mildbasil 50gparsley leaves 25gcoriander leaves 20glemon 1olive oil 130mlwater 50ml

Scrub the potatoes and cook them in a steamer basket over boiling water, or boil them in deep, lightly salted water until tender to the point of a knife – about 10-15 minutes, but test them regularly. Trim the asparagus and cook it in deep, lightly salted boiling water. The exact timing will depend on the thickness and freshness of the spears, but start testing after 5 to 7 minutes.

Halve the chillies lengthways, remove the stalks and seeds, then put the pods in the bowl of a processor. Remove the basil leaves from their stems and put the leaves, together with the parsley leaves and both coriander leaves and stems into the processor bowl, too.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice, adding 2 tbsp to the herbs. Process for a few seconds until everything is finely chopped, then introduce the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a bright green, thickish paste. With the machine still running, pour in the water. It should be thin enough to lightly coat the cooked vegetables. Adjust the dressing to taste with salt, more of the lemon juice or perhaps a tiny pinch of sugar. The dressing should be punchy and taste vividly of coriander.

Drain the asparagus and potatoes. Cut the asparagus into 5-6cm lengths. Cut the potatoes into thick slices. Toss both potatoes and asparagus while still warm with the dressing. Transfer to a serving dish, perhaps with a few crisp salad leaves if you wish.

These pastries and their oozing, creamy filling are best eaten warm, almost straight from the oven. They are small in size, so reckon on serving a couple per person. Makes 8 small tarts.

For the filling:new potatoes 250gmozzarella 250gcrème fraîche 4 heaped tbspthyme leaves 2 tbsplemon finely grated zest of 1 small

puff pastry 125gegg a little, beaten

Wash the potatoes, then steam them over boiling water for 10-12 minutes until they are tender. (Alternatively, boil them for about 15 minutes.) Remove the potatoes from the heat, drain, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Divide the pastry into 8, then roll each quarter into a square 10cm x 10cm. Place each one on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Score a second square inside each one, about 7cm x 7cm, taking care not to cut through the pastry, then place it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. (This will prevent the pastry from shrinking in the oven.)

Tear the mozzarella into small pieces and drop them into a bowl. Add the crème fraîche, the thyme leaves, lemon zest, a little salt and black pepper. Slice the potatoes into thick coins.

Bake the pastry for 10 minutes until it is barely coloured and beginning to crisp. Remove it from the oven and, using the back of a teaspoon, push the inner square of pastry down to form a shallow hollow.

Divide the potatoes between the squares, then spoon the mozzarella mixture over the potatoes.

Brush the pastry rim of the tarts with a little of the beaten egg, taking care not to let it run down the sides (it will stop them from rising).

Return the tarts to the oven and bake them for a further 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and the filling is patchily golden.

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new potatoes asparagus green chillies basil parsley leaves coriander leaves lemon olive oil water new potatoes mozzarella crème fraîche thyme leaves lemon puff pastry egg