French home cooks always seem to have a dozen wonderful things up their sleeves to make on the spur of the moment. Great ideas to use up leftovers come awfully naturally, as well, and they all appear to know about how to feed 6 people with a cup and a half of milk, 3 eggs, a bit of ham, and a handful of grated cheese. How DO they do it? These folks are always frying croutons, whipping up homemade hot chocolate, baking an apple tart using apples from the backyard tree, simmering cream soups or vegetable pastas, stirring up something tasty with canned tuna … or even making quiche! How is it that even carbs aren’t a problem for them? This is proven routinely by the unending ubiquitous photos of yard-long baguettes being carried home by slim citizens riding bikes down tree-lined sunny Paris streets. (Well, right now they’re limited to an hour out a day and can’t go far from home. Sigh.) Over the years I’ve been writing the blog, I’ve read and seen quite a lot about this phenomenon, but staying in France for two weeks a couple of years ago gave me a much more complete and definitely personal insight. I’m finding it all definitely useful in today’s cooking world.
The first thing I noticed was food was expensive and purchased in smaller quantities and way more often than Americans are used to. There were no huge packs of pork chops on sale for $10 stored in the upright freezer in the garage. Meat and fish were priced in such a way that small portions eaten only a time or two per week were the rule. Of course Americans sort of know and have heard these things prior to traveling to Europe and I had, after all, been abroad quite a bit, and even lived in Germany at one time. Somehow I just had to learn it all first hand à la française.
The second thought appeared to be no eating between meals. In other words, you ate at mealtime or you didn’t eat. (Kids just home from school were the exception and did get their snack of… you guessed it: bread and chocolate!) And if it was soup, there was bread and perhaps some cheese or a piece of fruit–but little more. (I’ve read the French eat a soup meal on average of 6 times per week and I love that whether or not it’s true.) And because you hadn’t dipped into the potato chips at 3 in the afternoon, you were, odd concept, HUNGRY!! The third idea is that it seemed to me nearly everyone had a garden or a family with one. Maybe a few chickens or a small vineyard to boot. There was some local food bartering going on, too — benefiting everyone.
If by chance you’ve read Martin Walker’s entertaining BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE books, you understand exactly what I’m saying about gardens and swapping food–and, if not–get reading now! A policeman in the small town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of southwest France, Bruno and his trusty basset hound often entertain friends, lovers, or acquaintances for dinner in between solving mysteries with tres-serious worldwide ramifications. The handsome protagonist gamely trades chicken and duck eggs for milk, cheese, and yogurt with his friend Stéphane — or locally sourced truffles for a nice bottle of wine or Cognac. Listening to his thought process for meal planning is one of the delights for wannabe locavore cooks who read. Instead of choosing a menu from the entire world at large and going to the grocery store to spend all his available euros, Bruno begins by taking stock of what he has at home on the shelf or in the garden, what’s in season, what needs to be used, what he can cadge from friends, and more. Ingredients he buys from the market or a shop are the very last consideration–and often serve simply as supplements. (It helps that the best baguettes and croissants in the entire region are made right in his village.) So if Bruno were thinking about making a quiche for a light supper for his friends or family from the leftover Easter meal — just as you might be — he would begin by gathering eggs from his very own chickens, making sure he had cream or milk and cheese from Stéphane in the (small) fridge, and last by slicing off a little of the ham he keeps hanging in the kitchen. Yes, hanging in the kitchen. When the quiche hit the oven, and not before, he’d run out to his potager (vegetable garden) and pick some lettuce leaves for a fresh side salad. (There never seems to be snow to thwart him.) Maybe wild strawberries — if it were that time of year — would serve as dessert. And since God is good, a few slices of quickly sautéed foie gras would most likely suffice for starters. Let’s not forget no one arrives at Bruno’s without a great bottle of local wine and at least one would be a sparkler. Ok, you get the picture. Even if there weren’t enough food — and that’s not happening at Bruno’s — you could make do on the wine. Well, I could. He likes to note that if all the shops in town closed, no one would starve because the citizens of St. Denis know how to forage, grow, catch, trade, or even shoot their own victuals. It’s a little different here, I’d say… … …
I don’t know about where you live, but even in April, here in this little corner of Colorado, my edible garden contains only young chives and tarragon and right now those are covered with snow that’s been falling for over 24 hours. I still have sage (and chives) indoors, but the sage in the garden hasn’t begun to green up and might not ever. The thyme is coming on oh-so-slowly, as is the rhubarb, but then a day like today comes along. Unlike in dear Bruno’s yard, the fresh greens may be 6 weeks out–if then. My eggs and meat and dry goods arrive in clean plastic bags we now pick up by pulling into the CLICK LIST parking space at the grocery and waiting for our order to be safely stored in the trunk before driving away nearly anonymously. (I miss grocery shopping a lot. What about you?) In the full glory of the summer, some wondrous local yokels do manage to raise vegetables and even have chickens who lay eggs. Up here on the mesa, however, the deer and bunnies have their way with most anything green and no one in our home has a yen for a hen house as bobcats visit frequently. Did I mention we’re on water restriction and rain isn’t really a thing? Just part and parcel of front range living. In other words, we’re nearly totally grocery store dependent. Fed Ex produce people most months of the year is who we are. It’s not all bad, though; I manage to cook, right? Occasionally good friend and hunter Lee Lehmkuhl will share his bounty or great gardener Bob Brockman might bring over a bunch of the best-looking kale. There are also some drinkable wines being produced here and there in our beautiful state and I could even talk about Olathe sweet corn, Pueblo chiles, Colorado lamb, and western slope peaches — but will leave that for summer when surely many things will seem more possible. In the meantime, suffice it to say Dave and I envy Bruno and the Americans like him terribly much. And we wonder how we –and people in other places –need to change our ways.
above: This is my backyard…just east beyond the cultivated and irrigated herb garden and tiny patch of grass.
These young does are ones we call, “the girls.” Don’t miss the hawk at top.
One of the interesting considerations about cooking and sourcing food right now is the focus on maintaining the global food supply chain. While we know it makes the most sense to waste nothing –and that has always been true — I can’t help but think we also need to think and learn more and more about knowing how to produce our own food or at least buy/trade from local sources. While that isn’t an easy thing to do in arid climates like ours with short growing seasons, we can try. I’m wondering about an 8-foot fence to keep critters at bay! Areas with greater rainfall and longer warm months can do even more. In the meantime, everyone must do their level best to be as conservative as possible with what’s on hand. Whether it’s to make a quick veggie stir-fry…
…or put together a tasty quiche from leftover Easter ham, some grilled vegetables, a few fried potatoes, an almost wrinkled tomato, or a handful of grated cheese. While I’ve had this information on the blog before, it hasn’t been in exactly this format. Making a scratch quiche is a skill I teach in my beginning French Cooking or Spring Brunch Class and have been doing so for years. Sometimes we first make a quiche from a recipe for which all the ingredients are laid out and then we make a second from ingredients students must find and choose in my kitchen. You can, too. Be a creative cook, I mean. Yes!
What’s a quiche (keesh)? A quiche is a savory (not sweet) custard (eggs and milk/cream mixed together), one-crust, open-faced pie or tart that can be made with a variety of fillings such as ham, bacon, asparagus, leeks, broccoli, fennel, onions, chiles, sweet peppers, and all kinds of cheeses.
Quiche is fun and everyone loves it. Even real men. Or unreal women. Or hungry kids. If “quiche” won’t work, tell them it’s “eggs in a crust” or “cheese pie.” The happy cooks above and below got their quiches made and eaten, as have many others along the way.
A FEW QUICHE IDEAS:
- While many foods can be used as part of a quiche filling –even a bit of leftover stew meat, diced grilled chicken, or cold pizza toppings–keep proportions even (1/2 cup meat/vegetables. 1/2 cup grated cheese, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups milk/cream) and try to use ingredients you know will marry well. Meats and vegetables should for the most part be pre-cooked before being added to quiche–with the exception of a little finely minced onion, some seeded chopped tomatoes, baby spinach, or a topping of skinny-sliced sweet peppers, etc.
- Some ideas for tasty combinations for your fillings: A. chopped/sliced smoked salmon, sautéed red onions, cream or goat cheese; B. cooked Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes or diced seeded fresh tomatoes, sautéed garlic, grated mozzarella; C. fried, crisp chopped bacon or ham, sautéed sweet peppers and onions, grated extra-sharp Cheddar; D. diced roast pork and chopped cooked green beans with grated Swiss cheese; steamed broccoli and sautéed onions with Gruyere; D. green chiles with diced cream cheese; E. sliced cooked breakfast sausage links, spinach, and cheese of choice; F. asparagus, sautéed scallions, and Cheddar; G. shrimp, green chiles, and Swiss…and __________________________ from your fridge.
- Some people like a little nutmeg grated into the milk and egg mixture–especially in really simple quiches. Others want fresh or dried herbs. Or both.
- Great sides for quiche are green salad, sliced tomatoes, fruit salad, grilled vegetables, and naturally, a great glass of white wine. (Think Elizabeth David’s wonderful book, AN OMELETTE AND A GLASS OF WINE.) Quiche is lovely for breakfast, lunch, snacks, or dinner and can be served hot, warm, at room temperature, or stone cold out of the fridge at one in the morning. Wonder how I know that?
- Use a tart pan with a removable bottom, a solid ceramic quiche dish, a pie plate, or even a 9-inch square casserole dish. The tart pan will not hold as much filling and custard as a pie plate.
No crust for you? Sure. Quiche will bake fine without it, but will take less time in the oven. Don’t use a tart pan with removable bottom. Grease your pie plate/ceramic quiche dish well!
Ok, bake a custom quiche now. I think you’re ready.
HOW TO MAKE QUICHE OUT OF ALMOST ANYTHING
- Tart pan, ceramic quiche dish, pie plate, or 9-inch square casserole dish
- 1 9- inch pie crust -homemade/store bought
- 1 ½ cups milk, half and half, cream, evaporated milk, or combination (can add melted butter to milk for richer custard)
- 3 eggs
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- ½ cup filling like chopped cooked asparagus, sautéed peppers or onions or broccoli, chopped roasted green chiles, cooked mushrooms, fresh baby or shredded spinach, fresh chopped/seeded tomatoes, well-cooked sausage, smoked bacon, ham, or combination, etc.
- 1/2 cup grated cheese. Choose from Gruyere, Swiss, Cheddar, etc. Crumbled fresh goat cheese is lovely and cubed cream cheese works well.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 C). Place dough for pie crust in pie plate or buttered tart pan. Crimp edges if using a pie pan (pinch between thumb and index finger or press into pan using table fork.) or press into fluted edges of tart pan, then trimming excess dough by running a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Press a doubled piece of aluminum foil into the dough on the pie plate/tart pan to keep crust in place and bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack while you prepare filling ingredients. Lower oven temperature to 350 F (177 C).
- Whisk together half and half, eggs, salt, and pepper and set aside. Place vegetable/meat filling evenly in bottom of crust and sprinkle with cheese. Carefully pour the egg mixture on top of the filling.
- Bake for 30 -40 minutes on a rimmed baking sheet OR until filling is set and crust is golden; a knife inserted at center should come out nearly clean. Do not over bake. Cool at least 10 minutes on rack before cutting and serving hot, warm, or at room temperature. Or cool, wrap loosely, and store for up to 4 days, cut and serve cold.
QUICHE CRUST RECIPE: Pâte Brisée (paht BREE-zay)
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup or 1/4# unsalted butter very cold, cut into 8 pieces (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup ice water measure 1/4 cup water into a 1 cup measuring cup half full of ice
- Place flour and salt in the work bowl of the food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse a couple of times to distribute salt. Add cold butter and pulse briefly several times until butter is worked into flour in several different sizes (1/4″ – 1/2″). With machine running, slowly pour water through feed tube until dough begins to come together. Stop machine and carefully remove dough from work bowl. Working quickly to avoid melting the butter within the dough, form into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Roll out and fill immediately (see above) or chill, well-wrapped, 1 hour or up to two days ahead.
STUFF TO READ:
29 Savory Tart and Quiche Recipes– EPICURIOUS
above: a little plaque near my kitchen
Life’s scary right now at your house and at mine. Things that used to be frightening –like making pie dough or finding a stiff dead lizard in your laundry room or being dreadfully late for a job interview — just no longer are. Whatever happens, we’re better for being together even if it’s only here. Even if I’m only in my kitchen baking and you’re over there doing the same. As the beautiful cook and writer, the late Laurie Colwin said,
“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
― Laurie Colwin
Cooking helps us stay well together, I’m sure of it. Tell me about your quiche.
PS: I cut my own bangs and no one died.
all photos by alyce morgan/please ask permission before using