Sandwiches are the workhorses of the kitchen. Hiding some fillings between two slices of bread makes a meal that’s easy to pack for lunch, but it feels ho-hum.

But something happens when you skip the top slice, and you’ve got something a bit classier. It’s a tartine, the French name for a slice of toast topped with good things. Not to be confused with bruschetta, crostini, or smørrebrød, a tartine has French flair and is capable of being a main course, as well as an appetizer.

A tartine, with all its lovely toppings on display, gives you an opportunity to compose your naturally beautiful vegetables on a “canvas” of bread. Instead of hiding, asparagus spears and juicy tomatoes are calling out to the diner. A platter of tartines adds more color and excitement to the table than a stack of sandwiches.

To make a good tartine, you need good bread. A thick slice of peasant-style bread will form a base with enough structure to carry the toppings to your mouth without bending or breaking. Look for an unsliced whole-grain bread with plenty of texture and flavor. It needs to be a player, not just a container for fillings. Then make your slices a little thicker than usual, and toast them immediately before serving.

Spring is in the air, and asparagus is on its way, which works for these Asparagus Tartines With Balsamic Drizzle. Somewhere in California, the pointed tips are poking up from the dirt, their tight buds ready for warmth and sunshine. I look at this time as a rehearsal for the local asparagus crop, which will make a brief appearance as soon as Minnesota soils have absorbed enough sunlight.

Asparagus tips are our favorite part of the plant, with their tender, delicate buds and points. The tartine is a perfect way to show them off, by briefly steaming them and placing them on display. The stems are put to good use, steamed with garlic and puréed with white beans for a creamy spread. White beans add some heft and a little protein to the tartine, and are mild enough to let the flavor of the asparagus shine through.

Once your asparagus spread and tips are arranged on the toast, tuck in the tomato pieces and sprinkle with fresh mint, and then taste springtime on toast.

Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan” and “Plant-Based Meats.” Find her at


Asparagus Tartines With Balsamic Drizzle

Serves 4.

Note: Use slices of baguette or slices from a round, rustic loaf of whole-wheat bread for this dish. You will only use half of a can of white beans, so plan on using the other half to make a little bean salad for lunch, or stir them into a soup of your choice. From Robin Asbell.

• 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

• 1 lb. asparagus

• 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise

• 3/4 c. cooked white beans (1/2 can)

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 4 thick slices whole-wheat bread

• 1 c. grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise

• 1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, julienne


For the balsamic drizzle: Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small pot and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat as needed to maintain a strong simmer. Cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cup with a spout or a small bowl where it will thicken as it cools. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

For the tartines: Set up a steamer for the asparagus. Cut the tips from the asparagus in 2-inch pieces and reserve. Cut 2 to 3 inches off the stalks and discard the ends, reserving the middle part of the stalks. Steam the tips for 1 minute, then transfer to a plate to cool. Steam the stalks and garlic for 4 minutes, until very tender. Drain and place in a food processor bowl.

Process the asparagus stalks and garlic, scraping down and repeating until they are puréed and smooth. Add the white beans, salt and a few grinds of black pepper and process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead, tightly covered and refrigerated until time to serve; makes about 1 cup.)

To assemble the tartines: Toast the bread.

Spread asparagus purée on each slice of toast, then top with asparagus tips, tomatoes and mint leaves. Drizzle with balsamic reduction just before serving.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 220 Fat... 2 g

Sodium 610 mg Carbohydrates 39 g

Saturated fat 0 g Added sugars 2 g

Protein 10 g Cholesterol 0 mg

Dietary fiber 6 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, ½ carb, ½ lean protein.