Thursday, July 5, 2012

for the love of quiche

I am very fond of quiche. My mother first made this dish for our family for dinner on a wintry evening. When we asked what was for dinner and she said the word quiche, I remember thinking it was such a peculiar word and I had no way of understanding what it was she had just said.

She made the quiche with fresh dungeness crab and swiss cheese. I can still see the pitch dark winter night sky outside the dining room window and all of us silhouetted under the warm glow of the dining room table light. My mom assured us kids we would like it. We were silent as we tried our first bites. It was a revelation for me on two levels: first that such rich decadence could exist in the world as a buttery pie crust filled with an eggy creamy custard. And second, that my mother knew this thing. It was the first time that I saw her as a real person- that she had lived this other life before us (her all consuming children). I remember wondering about what would make her pause enough in a day to put such a lovely dish before us, trusting that we would love it too, but realizing that she had made something because she had needed it- that it wasn't all about us. There was a longing and a melancholy wrapped up in that little quiche.

I somehow tied this together with the snippets of stories my mom would sometimes tell about her summer spent backpacking around Europe. I think because of these earlier impressions, I have always associated quiche as being a sophisticated dish. In Paris, I ordered quiche for lunch twice- once it was the stunning wedge of vegetable quiche you see pictured here. A second time it was classic quiche lorraine- filled with fantastic french ham.

Prior to Paris, I had actually been on somewhat of a quiche kick. It usually happens every spring and is kicked off by my tradition of making quiche for Easter breakfast. Below is my favorite quiche recipe and it makes 1 10-inch quiche. The recipe is from the Fiddlehead cookbook but I add an extra egg. (I adore this Alaskan tome- a couple more of my favorite recipes from the book can be found here and here.)

Regarding quiche filling, there is an endless variety of options. In this recipe you need about 2 to 3 cups of filling. Below I provide the recipe for salmon-mushroom quiche, but the quiches pictured are a variety. I think our favorite combination this spring was cubed ham with barely wilted-down kale. I generally just follow the format below of sautéing up a few things. If I am prepping this recipe the night before, I make the filling and refrigerate it separately from the unbaked pie shell. In the morning, the filling goes in the shell and the custard is quickly whisked together and poured over.

Salmon-Mushroom Quiche

1 10-inch unbaked pie crust shell:
2 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 pound plus 2 2/3 tablespoons butter, chilled
1/4 cup very cold water

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups cooked salmon, flaked
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or green onions

2 cups half-and-half
5 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1) Preheat the oven to 325 and set a rack in the center.

2) To make pie crust: In a mixing bowl, cut flour and butter together using a pastry cutter, 2 knives, your fingers, or a food processor fitted with a steel blade until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle mixture with water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing gently with a fork, just until dough begins to come together. (Take care not to stir or knead dough, which will toughen it.)

3) Gently gather dough into a ball. If dough is warm or very soft, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to prevent butter from melting into flour when you roll out dough.

4) Roll out on a well-floured surface to a circle 3 to 4 inches larger in diameter than your pie pan and about 1/8 inch thick. Slip a long spatula or knife under dough to loosen it and carefully fold dough loosely in half and place in pie pan. Unfold, center it in pan, and trim edges so they overhang pan by 1/2 inch. Folding under itself, pinch overhanging dough to make an attractive edge that stands up on lip of pie pan. Refrigerate until ready to fill.

5) To prepare filling: Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small pan over medium-high heat. When foam subsides, add mushrooms and onion slices. Stir and cook until wilted. Stir in flour and combine well. Remove from heat.

6) Distribute salmon evenly in unbaked pie shell. Dot with lumps of cream cheese and add cooked mushrooms and onions. Sprinkle with chives.

7) To prepare custard: In a large bowl (with a spout if you have one), whisk together half-and-half and eggs. Add salt and cayenne and pour over filling. Sprinkle pie with parmesan cheese.

8) Bake for 40 minutes, until quiche is golden brown on top and slightly puffed in center. Remove from  oven, cool for 15 minutes, then slice and serve warm.

Note: if you have only a 9-inch pie pan, make custard with 3 eggs and 1 1/2 cups half-and-half.

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