Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nouveau Quiche

I've always found baked egg dishes to be impressive and deceptively difficult. Give me a few eggs and I'll take a scramble, soft boiled egg or even a classic french omelet to task with ease, but somehow baked eggs, souffle, and—most notably—quiche, have always seemed just beyond my reach. I'll happily leave the breakfast-style eggs to the restaurants if it saves me the trouble of poaching or buying oven-safe ramekins, but the quiche I just can't get over. It seems like the perfect vehicle for any number of ingredients regardless of season (I've always noted that in my imaginary restaurant there would be a Quiche of the Day), and can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It goes well with soup or salad and a myriad sides, not mention it can sit alongside a sweet or a savory dish, and even act as an appetizer. Nothing seems like a more impressive dish for entertaining than quiche, with its aura of mystery and difficulty (is it eggs? cream? a batter? doesn't it take forever?), and I wanted to solve the mystery.

After researching a few recipes and quiche making methodologies that suggested everything from baking it with a water bath to avoiding opening the oven door, I decided to consult an expert. The one person I imagined could probably bake a quiche with her eyes closed is Martha Stewart, but since I don't know her personally, I decided to look into some of her recipes. Her website is a wonderful resource for cooks of all levels, and since her media empire runs the gamut from the fussy and complicated to the easy and delicious, it was the perfect place to look. Her site has slide shows for pretty much anything you can imagine, and quiche recipes are no exception. As expected, there are complicated and complex quiches using up to 10 eggs in addition to crème fraîche and milk, but fortunately for people like me, the Everyday Food arm of her vast empire came to the rescue once again.

Among the many recipes was an unbelievably easy one for an asparagus, leek and Gruyere quiche with a shockingly low ingredient count. I was dubious of its simplicity since it really only used four eggs and a little half and half to create the filling, which differed vastly from all of the other recipes I'd seen. The first step was making a pie crust, which I managed to avoid completely by buying one (baking is not my forte). Then I whisked together the eggs and half and half, sauteed the asparagus and leeks until just slightly softened and added them to the egg mixture. The Gruyere lined the bottom of the crust, creating a nice barrier from the wet egg mixture and keeping it nice and dry. Then in went the filling and the whole thing baked in the oven for 50 minutes.

The result was unbelievable. It was a perfectly soft, custardy quiche, still moist but perfectly set (a small miracle for my uncalibrated oven). The top was slightly browned in spots, the crust was crispy, and the asparagus was cooked without being rubbery. The flavor was spot on, and I can't tell you how well it re-heated (actually I can can: super well, even in the arcane microwave at work). It would be an absolute breeze to take this recipe and swap out the ingredients for whatever you have on hand. I'm already planning on doing something with swiss chard or kale, and definitely something with zucchini and tomatoes later in the summer. If you've feared this moment as I have for so long, I suggest you get a glass of white wine and throw caution to the wind. Sip your wine, pretend you're in France and make an awesome quiche. While it bakes you can toss together a salad, and in an hour you'll have an easy Parisian dinner right in your own home. Give it a try or put together your own. I either way, I promise you'll impress even yourself.

Asparagus, Leek and Gruyere Quiche
adapted from Everyday Food

1 tablespoon butter
1 leek (white and light green parts only), halved and thinly sliced, then well washed
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 bunch (1 pound) asparagus, tough ends removed, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
Ground nutmeg
9-inch pie crust, well chilled
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese (4 ounces)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in lowest position. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium. Add leek and asparagus; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is crisp-tender, 6 to 8 minutes; let cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Place pie crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheese; top with asparagus mixture. Pour egg mixture on top.

3. Bake until center of quiche is just set, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. (To store, let cool, then refrigerate, up to 1 day. Reheat at 350 degrees until warm in center, about 30 minutes.) Enjoy!


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