There are some foods that at this point feel about as quaint and retro as a bean bag chair. Fondue, for example. Uno bars. Ridged potato chips with sour cream and dried onion soup dip.
Not that they’re not delicious. (Actually, I love all of the above, along with canned dried onion rings, La Vache Qui Rite, and grapes mixed with sour cream and brown sugar. Not that I would admit it to anyone.) They’re just mated permanently in our minds with some specific time and place. The more au courant they seemed at the time, the hipper, the more up to the minute…well, the more you know when you think of them, you think also of black octagonal plates. And of black octagonal plates, the less said, the better.
But let’s not be put off by guilt by association. Some of these retro foods need to come out of the closet and take their place in the sunshine where they belong. They need to cast off the old reputation for quaint provincialism. They need, in short, to reinvent themselves.
Such a food is quiche.
Even the word quiche can make you wince, and make you think of the various stodgy and overpriced messes perpetrated in its name. Instead of thinking–as you would, if you were thinking of the quiche you make to suit your own tastes in your very own home–of a comforting, warm, creamy custard enrobing a savory marriage of flavors, all enclosed in a buttery, tender crust.
There. That sounds so much better than something you would take out of an avocado green kitchen, being careful not to spill anything on your leisure suit. Doesn’t it. Much better than that tired excuse for a vegetarian entree, served in buffet lunch restaurants around the world, mainly to get rid of all the odd vegetables in the kitchen left over from unsuccessful salads.
Quiches fit all my requirements for a meal. They’re inexpensive. They take well to improvisation. They’re delicious. And they’re easy to cook.
If the crust thing bothers you, there are two ways to deal with it: 1.) buy a readymade crust at the grocery store. They’re pretty good. and 2.) make a hardy tart shell that is practically foolproof, especially if you have a food processor and are even half paying attention to what you’re doing.
Here’s how for the shell (thank you, Marion Cunningham):
Mix 1 cup of flour (or 2/3 cup white flour and 1/3 whole wheat flour) with some salt. Put in the bowl of your food processor, and cut into it 6 tablespoons of chilled butter. Pulse this up and down until the butter looks like a variety of differently sized crumbs. Then mix an egg yolk with a couple of tablespoons of cold water. With the processor going, pour this in the from the top. The dough should mix and form a ball around the blades; if it doesn’t–if it still looks crumbly–add a little more cold water to the cup you mixed the yolk in, and add it, little bit by little bit, until the dough DOES mix and form a ball etc.
Take the dough out, wrap in plastic wrap, and shove in the frig for at least twenty minutes.
When you need it, take it out and put it in the middle of your quiche pan. Mind you, this does not have to be a quiche pan, purpose built and bought from a department store with the words “Quiche pan” on the side. It can be a pie plate. A Spanish cazuela. A tart pan. Anything ovenworthy that will be big enough to hold the finished product.
Now push down with the heel of your hand, and, using the heel and your fingers, push and pull the dough until it covers the bottom and sides of the pan. Don’t worry if the crust tears. Just pull a bit off where you don’t need it and use that as a patch. Just make sure you don’t leave any too thick spots, especially around the edges–that’ll make the whole thing a little stodgy when you’re done. You see why this is a good recipe. None of that floured surfaces and rolling pin stuff, and then the crust sticking to the rolling pin, and then the worry that if you work the dough too much, it’ll come out tough. Nope. This crust is friendlier than that.
If you have time now, cover the crust, and put it back in the frig to rest. When you’re ready to proceed, preheat oven to 425 degrees, take the pan out, and, with a fork, pierce the raw crust all over its bottom. This is so it doesn’t swell up in the oven. Then, with a pastry brush if you have one, or just a wadded up piece of paper towel if you don’t, paint the bottom of the crust with mustard (if you’re making a savory tart), or honey (if you’re making a sweet one). I find this keeps the crust from getting soggy later, when it’s filled.
At this point, you can fill it with anything you like (and I do emphasize that verb ‘like’…this is not the place, if there ever is one, to get rid of all the odds and ends you can’t figure out any other way to mix), and then cover the whole thing with a custard. Basic recipe for a good custard is 3 eggs mixed with a cup of milk and a quarter cup of cream, salt added. But you can fiddle with that, too. 4 eggs and 3/4 cup of milk. 3 eggs and 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup yogurt. Substitute sour cream for some of the liquid. Etc.
Paprika the top, if it’s a savory custard. That looks nice. If you think of it, put little dabs of butter there, too, or dribble on a little oil. Bake at 425° for fifteen minutes, then turn the oven down to 350°, and bake another thirty minutes. It should be brown and puffy when it’s done, and smelling of its ingredients. If you have any doubts at all, stick a toothpick in the custard and see if it comes out clean. Let the tart sit for a few minutes on your counter to settle–a good time to have a little appetizer at the table. Serve slices with a green salad on the side.
Delicious. Comforting, too. And your family thinks you’re great for making that pie crust. If you bought it, just don’t bother telling them. You deserve some credit, after all, for restoring quiche to its rightful position.
(This is what I did the other night: Anchovy/Mushroom/Cheddar Cheese Quiche. I sautéed a handful of mushrooms in the olive oil from a can of anchovies. Salt. When they were done, turned off the heat and tossed them with minced parsley and garlic clove. I cut a few slices of cheddar cheese into small dice. Scattered half on the bottom of the pastry shell. Spread the mushrooms on top. Lay the anchovies from the can on top of the mushrooms. Scattered the rest of the cheese over all. Poured on a custard made of 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup cream, salt, and liberal dashes of hot pepper sauce. Dribbled what was left of the oil in the anchovy can on top. Sprinkled paprika. Cooked as per instructions above. While it sat, we had a salad of grated carrot, minced parsley, and marinated herring. Then served the quiche with a little green salad. Absolutely divine.)