From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
375 g shortcrust pastry (plus plain flour for dusting)
4 eggs (plus 2 egg yolks)
100 g asparagus tips (trimmed and cut in half crossways)
225 ml double cream
3 tblsp snipped chives
225 g smoked salmon (diced)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
green salad dressed with french vinaigrette, to serve
If making these tarts when asparagus is not in season, use leeks or sprinkle a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon into the cases for a better flavour. You can make the pastry cases up to 24 hours in advance, or the raw cases can be frozen for us for 3 weeks.
Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible on a lightly floured work surface, and use it to line six loose-bottomed 10cm (4in) round, fluted tartlet tins, of 2cm (¾ in) in depth. Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes to allow the pastry to rest.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Prick the pastry bases with a fork, then line each with a circle of non-stick baking paper or foil. Fill with ceramic baking beans or dried pulses, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes until the cases look set.
Carefully remove the beans and the paper or foil from each cooked pastry case. Separate one of the eggs and reserve the yolk. Brush the inside of each pastry case with the unbeaten egg white to form a seal. Return the cases to the oven for another 2-3 minutes or until firm to the touch and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and decrease the temperature to 170°C (325°F/Gas 3).
Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil and blanch the asparagus tips for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain the asparagus and plunge into a bowl of iced water to prevent any further cooking. Drain again and pat dry on kitchen paper.
Place the rest of the eggs and the yolks (including the reserved one) in a bowl and whisk to combine. Beat the double cream and chives, and season well with salt and pepper. Divide the salmon equally among the pastry cases, season with pepper, then arrange the asparagus on top. Give the cream mixture a good stir and carefully pour over the top. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just set but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then carefully remove from the tins and serve warm or cold with salad.