My favourite potluck contribution is a quiche. It’s a standard recipe that can be adapted to many fillings, it’s fancy enough to be impressive and simple enough for anyone to make, it’s delicious, and we never eat it at home unless we have company. We’ve been invited to a collaborative dinner party for Christmas Eve, hosted at the house of some dear, harried toddler-parents, so I’ve offered to bring the main dish: quiche.
I learned to make quiche about 20 years ago from the cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure. This book also taught me to make tomato sauce and other indispensibles, but the best thing about the book was that for years I had no counter space upon which to roll out pastry, and the Pastry Brisee recipe requires no rolling. It makes a very crumbly dough that you press into the pan, making a rich, shortbread-like crust.
It’s a simple recipe involving a cup of flour, a dash of salt and sugar, and 2/3 cup of butter. It instructs you to sift the dry ingredients and then work in the butter with your fingers, but I’ve watched enough Food Network to know that the very best way to make pastry dough is in the food processor, where your hands won’t melt the butter.
That’s it – no water added. The recipe calls for pressing the dough into a ball, but I’ve always found this impossible, so I just dump it into some form of sandwich bag, roll it into a ball-like shape and put it in the fridge for a while.
You will notice that the texture of this pie crust is much too lumpy-buttery. I decided to ignore this as, hey, the characteristic of a good crust is that it’s flaky, and butter lumps make more flakes. Once the blind baking was done, I realized my mistake.
The pastry has essentially melted. I recognize this problem from my early days of learning to make shortbread – I seem to have mismeasured the butter and not fully incorporated it. Also, the crust is overcooked. I’ve suspected for a while now that my oven is running hot. I need to buy an oven thermometer.
No matter. This quiche will be more of a fritatta with a pastry bottom. It will be fine.
Next: caramelizing the onions. Cook them on lowish heat for a long time, and don’t stir too much. This is important so that they will brown. However, they should perhaps not be this brown.
Take the onions off the heat and throw a bit of salt on them. Then fry up the mushrooms, salt them, and throw some spinach in at the end to wilt it and cook the moisture off. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon to leave the excess liquid behind.
I’ve found it helps to cool everything down before assembling the quiche, so I pop the pastry and veggies into the fridge for the moment. I also set the oven for 375 (quote, unquote) in hopes that this is close to the 450 that is needed to start the quiche.
The basic recipe for any quiche filling is some cheese, 4 eggs, and a cup of milk (or cream if you really want to fatten it up). I’m using soy milk because my husband isn’t so good with lactose, and goat cheese for the same reason, and also for the reason that goat cheese is delicious and goes well with spinach and mushrooms.
Important quiche secret: put the cheese at the bottom. It’ll form a barrier between the liquid and the pastry so the pastry stays crisp (although the state of my pastry might be moot at this point.)
Then pile on the veggies, starting with the oiliest (the caramelized onions). Be sure to leave as much liquid as you can behind so it won’t sog everything up. (You could even strain the liquid into a separate bowl and add it to the eggs when you whip them – as long as the liquid is not still hot – but this might make your custard a weird muddy colour.)
Whip together the eggs and milk, a big pinch of salt, some pepper, and some herb if you have some on hand (dill!) Pour this custard on top of the veggies. It might look like it doesn’t cover everything, but it will probably expand to real quichiness in the oven. (Fingers crossed.)
Bake at initial, higher temperature for about 15 minutes, and then turn the oven down (I turned it to 325 – we’ll see…) for 10 or 15 or 20 or 25 more – keep an eye on it. It’s done when the center is just firm – overcooked quiche is not good, and it will continue to cook a bit when it’s out of the oven, so if there are little dots of slightly runny egg here and there, it’s ok.
Looking good! I can’t cut into this and taste it now (one disadvantage of bringing a pie to a party), but I’ll report on its success, or not, in the morning. In the meantime, I suppose it’s time for me to learn to roll out pastry dough so I can avoid melted shortcrust in the future. And if anyone wants to give me an oven thermometer for Christmas…