Like most people burrowing in at home during the pandemic, I’ve done my fair share of binge watching, devouring shows with a bottomless appetite. Not even discerning the finer fare from downright junk food, I’ll swallow them all whole in one sitting, pausing perhaps for a breath of air, but not a crumb will be left when the day is done. As a respite from reality, even the worst programs are still tolerable. When it just so happens that I dig into an actual delicacy, however, it’s a treat that transcends the most substantial meal. It satisfies my creative hunger, while often eliciting a greater craving for creativity.
Dear reader, please don’t judge me, but I fell hard for Bridgerton on Netflix. If you’re not familiar, the basic premise centers around one affluent family during the Regency Era in London, full of love, scandal, and strife. If it were a book, you might even call it a bodice-ripper at points, and yet… Of course, I find myself most captivated by the food. Particularly, the elaborate feasts, huge spreads set for even the most mundane weekday meals. The singular dish that I simply can’t shake from mind, despite the fact that it flashed on the screen for not even a full second, barely even coming into focus, was the most magnificent asparagus pastry I ever laid eyes on.
(Please don’t sue me for the screen shot, Netflix.)
Tireless internet trawling yielded only a few scant scraps. Promising leads, but nothing substantive; certainly not enough to fill up on. Hungry for answers, I decided to write my own script for this savory plot twist.
Raised pastry crusts were very popular at this time, often decorated lavishly by the impressions of fancy copper molds. Lacking such specialized equipment, my crust is made in the same spirit, but as a simpler springform affair. Contrary to delicate doughs that yield a tender yet flaky texture, recipes dating back to this time were sturdy, utilitarian foundations built upon lard and high-gluten flour. Staying true to the spirit of the task while attempting a more edible base, I’ve employed coconut oil alongside softer white whole wheat flour.
More importantly but also more mysteriously, the filling posed a unique challenge. Of course, asparagus should be the primary ingredient, but what else? How did they stay so pert and erect after roasting, and what anchored them in place? Most dinner pies, and most foods on affluent British tables in general, contained meat, and lots of it. Mincemeat was a perennial staple across all classes, but for such a special event, only the best would do. Thus, it’s rational to imagine a hidden pool of luxurious pate holding those spears upright. Rich and buttery, perhaps a touch gamey, duck or pheasant liver might be a good choice. For me, though, canned green beans are the new foie gras. Believe it or not, the once off-putting tinned taste is the very thing that gives this spread the same distinctive notes of iron, along with a satisfying dose of protein. Bolstered with savory herbs and spices, tasting, more than seeing, is believing in this case.
Pert and perky straight out of the oven, my stalks did admittedly begin to droop after the rigors of shooting under hot lights. Next time, I might suggest cutting the spears a bit shorter, to put less strain on the crust and keep them standing tall. My vision was simply too grand to live beyond the specter of a Hollywood set.
It takes a bit of doing to prepare, but a royal feast demands the utmost of care to pull off. With a bit of planning and patience, even those who aren’t lucky enough to be born into high society can partake in this grand, celebratory pastry.