The first time I paid attention to the word ‘quiche’ was way back in the early eighties, and I did not even know how to pronounce it then. It was from the title of a book, countless copies of which were stacked on a table as I entered a Barnes & Noble store in Fox Hills Mall in Culver City, California.
I quickly flipped through Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein and while I found it funny in parts, I decided I was neither interested in why real men don’t eat savoury pies nor in a satire about masculine stereotypes. Instead, I made a beeline for the periodicals counter and made a mental note to learn more about quiche upon my return to Singapore.
Within a day of arriving home, I checked my Oxford dictionary for the pronunciation. “keesh”, it said — and then pulled out my trusted and 1976 edition of the quintessentially British Good Housekeeping Cookery Book. There were at least five recipes for quiche including Crabmeat and Ricotta Quiche. I chose what looked easiest — Quiche Lorraine made with shortcrust pastry, gruyere cheese, cream and bacon.
I followed the Good Housekeeping recipe as diligently as if I was being tested in a middle school Home Economics course. The result of my first quiche attempt? While I liked it, especially the soft custard filling, frankly, I was not overwhelmed. The pastry was hard and tasteless and the bacon imparted an overpowering flavour. I was quite happy to give quiche a miss, until a few weeks later when I saw it being served at what was then my favourite café in London — Patisserie Valerie. As it happens, Patisserie Valerie was right next to Hatchard’s, which was my all-time favourite bookstore in the whole world and was a ritual stop for me on every trip to London, which was about three or four times a year. I would visit Hatchard’s, buy at least one paperback novel and then head to Valerie’s next door for a most indulgent chocolate éclair and a diet coke (my sugar quota having been blown by the éclair). This time, however, an elderly lady at the table next to mine was having what looked like a delicious quiche stuffed with greens and a side salad of tomatoes and lettuce. It was then that I decided to give quiche another chance. Ever since my first bite of that spinach quiche, I have become a great fan. I eat quiche at least three or four times a month, home-made, but I do like trying quiche found in nice restaurants and cafes as well.
Friends have been raving for years about the endless varieties of quiche at the famous Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, upstate New York. The closest I have come to tasting Moosewood’s quiche is making my own using founder Mollie Katzen’s recipe. My sister, who lives close to Ithaca, and has visited Moosewood regularly over the past fifteen years, assures me that mine is a very authentic version of a Moosewood quiche.
A typically French savoury pie, quiche is easy to make and is open to countless variations. There are four components, of which three may be substituted with other ingredients:
- Crust. Typically made from shortcrust pastry, I have also tried a nut crust and breadcrumb crust with success.
- Cheese. Coarsely grated cheese goes in first. Gruyere is recommended for its flavor but a mild or sharp cheddar will also work. If preferred, you could also combine an extra-sharp English cheese with something milder.
- Filling. This is what makes the variations interesting. Make it simple with sautéed mushrooms or more elegant with salmon and watercress. Leftover roast chicken works, too. It’s best not to add more than two fillings.
- Custard. This is just eggs and milk and is the only part of a quiche which allows very little variation, perhaps substituting cream for milk to bake a richer, heavier pie.
Asparagus quiche with mashed potato crust
The recipe below is a variation of a recipe by Mollie Katzen.
Mashed Potato Crust
1 small sweet potato, about 250g
1 large potato, about 250g (use 500g potatoes if sweet potatoes are not available)
½ cup finely minced onion
Butter, about 30g
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 170° Celsius.
Peel the potato and sweet potato and cut them into large chunks. Boil the potato first in unsalted water for 10 minutes. Add the sweet potato and boil along with the potato for another 10 to 15 minutes. Check doneness with a fork — it should come out clean. When the potatoes are done, drain completely and quickly add the butter, onion, and season to taste with salt and better. Mash them all together and with a spoon or spatula, line a deep 9-inch pie pan with the crust. Bake for 45 minutes at 170° Celsius. Halfway through, brush lightly with olive oil.
Meanwhile, prepare all the other ingredients:
– Cheese: I like to combine two types of cheese. Coarsely grate 75g of mild cheddar cheese and 75g of mature cheddar cheese or 150g of any cheese. Set aside.
– Filling: Steam eight to ten asparagus stalks, depending on thickness. Cut them into half-centimetre pieces and mix them with some tarragon and thyme.
– Custard: Beat together three eggs and one cup (250ml) milk.
Assemble the quiche
Spread the cheese evenly across the bottom of the baked crust. It does not need to be cooled before adding the filling. Add the steamed and chopped asparagus, covering as much of the cheese as possible. Pour the custard mixture over the asparagus. Sprinkle paprika on top.
Bake at 170° Celsius for 35-45 minutes. Serve with a fresh green salad tossed with a vinaigrette dressing or a few slices of oranges or tomatoes.