Quiche lovers, come back -- it's still as seductive as ever

Pie: This savory, custardy creation remains popular in restaurants, and makes a perfect dish for entertaining.

Sunday Gourmet

April 07, 2002|By CeCe Sullivan | CeCe Sullivan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

In our love affair with quiche, we've gone through all of the stages of a longstanding, complicated relationship. When first introduced by Julia Child and friends to quiche Lorraine in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, we were seduced by its silky, creamy custard studded with crisp bits of bacon. We fell into the heady excitement of a new love when chefs began adding luxurious slivers of smoked salmon and Black Forest ham and sun-dried tomatoes.

With the publication of Real Men Don't Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein and Lee Lorenz in 1982, our passion began to cool and quiche became somewhat of a joke. We became fickle in our attempts at reform by changing its name to "tart" or "flan."

Our rendezvous with quiche may have taken a secret turn, but the dish never lost its appeal. Readers often request, somewhat sheepishly, recipes for quiche. And at the Queen Mary Tea Room in Seattle, owner Mary Greengo has made a lot of quiche over her 15-year tenure. So much, in fact, that "we could be named the Queen Mary Quiche House," she says.

The place serves two vegetarian quiches, but it's her sophisticated smoked-salmon creation that's off the charts. Perhaps it's because the salmon is smoked right at the restaurant, but more likely it's the dynamite blend of contrasts -- smoky, creamy, buttery and crisp -- that's hard to resist.

Because it can be made in advance, quiche makes the perfect dish for entertaining. The crust can be put together a day ahead and prebaked. Vegetables and meats can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated separately. Or make and bake the whole quiche a day in advance, refrigerate and reheat the next day.

The traditional 10-inch quiche dish is made of white ceramic and is straight-sided with a scalloped edge. But a pie plate also works well, as long as the sides are high enough, at least 1 1/2 inches, to hold the filling. Before draping the dish with its pastry crust, lightly mist the surface with cooking spray, which will just about guarantee easy removal of the wedges, even if the custard overflows the crust. Prebake the pastry to seal it.

In The Good Egg: More Than 200 Fresh Approaches From Soup to Dessert (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), author Marie Simmons offers a basic quiche base as a starting point for many creative variations. Simmons suggests first layering the filling ingredients on the baked crust. Instead of an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach, try to limit additions to the custard to just three.

For a 10-inch quiche pan, begin with a mix of 1 to 2 cups cooked vegetables, meats or seafood. (It's especially important to cook the vegetables until the juices are released and evaporated, or the custard will separate and turn watery.) Simmons favors combinations such as sausage, onions and mushrooms; broccoli, roasted garlic and red bell pepper; or baby shrimp with scallions and dill.

Top with 1 cup of a milder cheese such as Swiss or Cheddar that's been grated or diced, or dollops of the more decadent Camembert or Brie. Reduce the amount to about 1/2 cup if using sharper blue cheeses. Then whisk together 1 cup of milk, half-and-half or heavy cream and 3 large eggs, seasoning with herbs, salt and pepper. Pour into the dish, filling no more than three-fourths full. Place the dish on a baking sheet to catch random drips and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Of course, any of the fillings can be put into a glass pie plate or square baking dish without a crust. Although the quiche will be missing its crisp foundation, the velvety custard that first enamored us will still draw us to the table.

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