Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quiche & Frittata ... egg pies for evey occasion!

If you are looking for a savory excuse to make a pie crust this week, quiche is the treat for you. Quiche can be a breakfast or brunch special served with some fresh fruit or a simple salad, or it can serve as the main course for an elegant dinner. Whatever the occasion, I have found that quiche is a crowd pleaser. And it is simple! Use fresh ingredients, good eggs and keep the flavors simple and balanced. I like to do combinations of one or two veggies with a fresh herb accent or spice blend. Be creative with whatever vegetables, meats and cheeses you have on hand. Years ago when I first started making quiches I went looking for the secret ingredient. It didn't take me much experimentation to discover that the light, rich taste I love in quiche comes from the addition of naturally fermented crème fraîche. Apart from quiche, crème fraîche is wonderful as a garnish to soups and as a sauce for salads and desserts. Since the crème fraîche discovery I have also experimented with using yogurt (always plain). Yogurt has a similar effect texturally, but is a bit sourer (yum!) and will affect the flavor accordingly. Consider this when you chose your ingredients and work with it.

If you do not have yogurt or crème fraîche you may substitute milk, or even better, cream. I also like to add a tablespoon or so of cold water to the egg batter to fluff it up. Make sure that you beat the egg very thin; when you lift a fork or whisk through the egg it should slide right through without stringy chunks or lumps.

The trick is to have all ingredients mostly cooked before you add the egg and bake it. Once in the oven they will not have much time to cook before the egg is done and your pie is ready. For harder vegetables like winter squash and potato boil or steam them before sautéing. Softer foods like leeks, onion, summer squash, pepper or mushroom can be fully precooked in your initial sauté.

8 - 10 eggs, depending on the size
¼ cup crème fraîche or yogurt
1 Tbs. cold water
1 large or 3 small leeks
1 cup cubed butternut squash
3 branches of fresh thyme
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut in half, remove seeds and skin and cube enough butternut squash to make 1 cup, more or less. Cook the prepared squash in a large pot of salted boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain well and set aside. Note: You can either start with a small squash or save or freeze the extra (raw or cooked) for a soup, quiche or other dish. Butternut squash is great as a side dish tossed with butter, fresh thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Slice leeks thin and wash well, if large cut into half moons. Remove the leaves and tender stems from the thyme branches. In a skillet heat 2 Tbs. butter, when hot add leeks. After a few minutes, salt generously and add a twist of black pepper. Cook until leeks are tender and sweet, 10 minutes or more. When fully cooked, add thyme leaves and cooked squash. Sprinkle with salt and stir well. Adding salt as you go will help the flavors develop and give each ingredient a great flavor on its own. Cook until ingredients are well blended, taste for salt and place evenly into a pre-baked and cooled pie crust.

In a large bowl whisk together egg, crème fraîche, water and a dash of salt and pepper. Whisk until well beaten. A fork or whisk should be able to slide through easily without encountering lumps or stringy spots, this is important to a light fluffy quiche. When beaten to your satisfaction pour the egg mixture into the crust, adjusting or taping to get the egg through the leeks and squash. Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan and some fresh black pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, this depends a lot on your oven. The quiche will first start to rise and cook around the edges, slowly moving into the center. To test for doneness lightly press your finger into the center of the quiche, be careful it’s hot. If the center is still mostly liquid then it needs to cook longer, but if there is just a thin layer of liquid on top that's okay. Turn off the oven, prop the door open slightly and let the quiche cool in the warm oven. It should feel springy but firm to the touch. It will set up and finish cooking as it cools.

I recently spent the night at a friend’s house. When I arrived she hit me with a challenge: “I always make the same thing. I have all the ingredients I normally have, can you help me make something new?” Generally she takes her favorite veggies and stir-fries them with various treats like sausage or whatever else she has around and serves it with brown rice. While her family loves it, she needed a creative boost. That night we ended up making a wonderful cream of broccoli soup. I also planted the frittata seed. Frittatas are simple, quick and easy, yet they look finished and beautiful and make a very satisfying meal. Best of all, you can throw in your favorite ingredients and have it taste good, just like a stir-fry!

A frittata is a thick, baked omelette, similar to a Spanish torta. It is very similar to a quiche only it doesn’t have a crust. In general since frittatas lack the structure of a crust it is fun to add heavier ingredients, like squash or potato. Follow the same instructions for a quiche (above), but leave out the crust. Precook and sauté your ingredients, place them evenly into the dish and pour egg over, bakes the same. Maybe this is where the expression “easy as pie” came from!

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