Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kale & Ham Quiche plus a few Quiche Basics

I think kale may be my new favorite vegetable. It is not a vegetable that I have until recently gone much out of my way to use. If I wanted cooked greens, I usually looked in the direction of chard which is easy to clean, quick to cook and has only a mild hint of bitterness to it. But more and more I am reaching for kale. Whenever I use kale, I am struck by its intriguing and complex flavor—slightly bitter, slightly pungent...yet sweet when cooked long enough. Better yet, unlike chard (or spinach), when cooked to tenderness, kale retains some of its substance. Because there is one grower that reliably has beautiful young kale at my market right now, I will be enjoying it regularly for the next few weeks. This week I made a quiche. In looking back over my blog, I was surprised to discover that I have never written a "quiche basics" post. Since my kale quiche was exceptionally good, now seemed like a good time for that post.


Quiche falls into the category of preparations that I call 'vehicles' or 'blank canvases'. These are things that act as a basic foundation for a never ending parade of vegetables, meats, cheese, etc. Pasta and Pizza fall into this category. As do salad greens and grain pilafs. Learn the basic technique (how to make a quick pasta sauce...how to make pizza dough and build a pizza...how to build a pilaf or compose and dress a salad) and as long as you maintain a pantry that supports these basic 'vehicles' you will never be at a total loss when it comes to dinner.

For quiche, if you know how to make a crust and mix up a custard, and you then learn a few basic principles about how to build and bake a quiche, you can make a delicious quiche from just about anything you might have on hand or find at the market. Once you master the crust, everything else is easy (particularly if you get into the habit of keeping tart dough—raw in disk form, or rolled out in the pan—in your freezer).

Last year I wrote a post on how to make and roll out short crust pastry. The post was very long so I didn't include any information on how to pre-bake a crust. Knowing how to pre-bake (or "blind bake") a crust or tart shell is important because doing so insures that the final crust will be fully cooked and crisp—even when filled with very soft or wet ingredients (like egg custard). To blind bake a tart shell, line it with foil (dull side out) or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners, and fill it with a layer of pie weights. If you don't have (or don't wish to invest in) pie weights, you may use dried beans.  (I store a zip lock bag of dried beans alongside my tart pans. These beans can be used over and over again.) Bake the crust in a hot (400° to 425°) oven for 12 to 18 minutes. If the crust begins to puff up, simply use a towel or oven mitt to quickly press the crust back down. When the pastry begins to color on the edges and when you lift up the foil the crust underneath looks cooked (but with no color) remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a uniform golden brown color. Let the shell cool before filling.

A 9-inch removable bottom tart pan (the pan I typically use to make a quiche) will hold about four cups of custard and filling ingredients combined. The more custard you use the lighter the quiche will seem—whereas if the quiche is packed tightly with vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc., and consequently has less custard, it will give a heartier, more substantial impression. I prefer a quiche that contains about 1 1/3 cups of custard and about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of filling ingredients.

There are many recipes for basic custards and you should settle upon one that produces the result you prefer. The more eggs you use per cup of liquid, the firmer the final filling will be. One egg will set a cup of liquid, but it will be a very soft and jiggly set (which can be difficult to cut). I like a ratio of 2 eggs for every cup of liquid. This produces a fluffy custard that slices nicely. You will find some chefs that use as many as 4 eggs per cup of liquid—which produces a very firm, dense quiche. Two eggs plus one cup of liquid (my preferred ratio) will produce just about exactly 1 1/3 cup of custard...perfect for a nine inch quiche. But if you want the denser custard you would use 3 eggs plus 3/4 c. liquid for the same size pan.

The liquid that you use for your custard can be heavy cream, crème fraiche, half & half or whole milk (or some combination thereof). I use heavy cream (or crème fraiche, if I have it on hand). This produces the creamiest baked custard...and really, if you are cutting your quiche into six pieces (a very reasonable portion), this means each person will only be consuming a little over 2 1/2 T. of cream. I don't think that this is too much cream in the grand scheme of things.

Whatever filling ingredients you choose, they should always be cooked before going into the quiche. As they cook, vegetables give up water and meats/fish give up juices and fat. Both of these things will water down the custard...or worse, create a watery/fatty pocket around the vegetable or meat encased in the set custard. Neither is very nice. Also, if not pre-cooked, the probability that the vegetable or meat might not be fully cooked by the time the custard is set is great.

To build a quiche simply layer the cooked vegetables, meats and cheeses into the blind baked tart shell and pour the custard over. Gently jiggle the tart shell and use a fork (or your fingers) if necessary to adjust the filling ingredients a bit as you pour so that the custard will flow into all the nooks and crannies created by the filling ingredients. Be careful as you pour. You may not need all of the custard. It is better to discard a small amount of custard than to ruin the whole tart by pouring in so much custard that it overflows the shell. Any custard that overflows will burn on the exterior of the shell—effectively ruining some or all of the quiche.

There were lots of options open to me when I started looking around for something to combine with my kale when I made my quiche. A couple of years ago I posted a picture of a Swiss chard, potato and caramelized onion quiche. I remember that this was very good and so I toyed with the idea of making something similar with the kale. Potatoes and kale are a particularly good combination. But in addition to the kale, I had some spring onions that I wanted to use. I also had a little bit of ham that I thought would be nice. Salty foods (olives...anchovies...bacon...ham...) are good with greens. The ham was a perfectly timely addition too since so many people will have ham left over from their Easter dinners (quiche is a great place to use up leftover cooked meats/fish and vegetables).

As it turned out, I could have added a few roasted or steamed potatoes to my filling (and the combination of potatoes, kale and ham would have been great) because I ended up with slightly less than 2 cups of cooked filling ingredients. The kale and spring onions cooked down to just under a cup, and I had about a half cup of ham and a half cup of shredded cheese. I decided to go ahead and bake the quiche with slightly less filling than usual. I tell this mainly to emphasize how flexible quiches can be. If you want to add potatoes....or more custard...or just a bit more kale & ham...or bake it in an 8-inch shell...you can.

Once you begin to think of the crust and custard as a vehicle for other ingredients, you will be able to come up with all kinds of variations and combinations. And if you are short on ideas, I'm sure that in the future I will occasionally post a recipe for a quiche—inspired by the things I purchased at the farmer's market...or the leftovers in my pantry....



Kale & Ham Quiche

1 to 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 oz. smoked ham, rind removed and cut in a 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup diced)
2 medium-sized spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced (white portion and several inches of the green)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb. young kale, thoroughly rinsed and ribs removed
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 8- to 9-inch tart shell, blind baked (Pâte Brisée recipe below)
2 ounces coarsely grated Dubliner (or other flavorful cheddar-like cheese)


Warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a sauté pan set over moderately high heat. Add the ham and sauté until golden brown in spots—2 to 3 minutes. Remove the ham to a plate.

Add the spring onions and garlic along with a bit more oil if the pan looks dry. Season lightly with salt and sweat until just wilted—about 2 minutes.

Coarsely chop the kale. Add it to the pan a handful at a time, turning it as you do to coat it in the hot oil and adding another handful as the previous one begins to collapse. When all of the kale has been added, season lightly with salt. Reduce the heat, cover and cook until tender—about 20 to 30 minutes (possibly longer, depending on the age and variety of the kale). Check the kale occasionally as it cooks, adding a few tablespoons of water if the pan seems dry. When the kale is tender, remove the lid and increase the heat so that any liquid left in the pan can cook off. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the kale to cool briefly.

While the kale cooks, place the eggs in a small bowl and whisk briefly to break up. Whisk in the cream until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper (and nutmeg, if you like); set aside.

Spread the kale mixture over the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Scatter the ham over all. Place the tart shell on a cookie sheet and pour the custard over the filling—be careful, all of the custard may not be necessary. Scatter the cheese over the top and transfer the baking pan to a preheated 375° oven.





Bake the quiche until the filling is set and the surface is a light golden color—about 25 minutes. If, when the custard is set (the tip of a knife slipped into the center should come out clean), the surface is not as golden as you would like, briefly run the quiche under the broiler until the cheese is light golden brown.  Serves 8 as a first course or 4 to 6 as an entrée.




Pâte Brisée
(Savory Tart Dough)

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (114g)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, pressing into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter a 9- to 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan and set it aside. Flour the work surface and the rolling pin. Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward. After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking. Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness. Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half. Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared tart pan. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Cut the dough off flush with the edge of the pan by pressing gently against the edge. Chill the shell for at least 1/2 hour.

To blind bake: Line the pastry with aluminum foil (dull side out) or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners and edges. Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a 400° to 425° oven for 12 to 18 minutes. When the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a light golden color for a partially baked shell, and a deeper amber for a fully baked shell. Let cool before filling.

Notes:
• The tart dough may be made ahead and frozen—raw in disk form, or rolled out in the pan (raw or baked).
• Any amount of dough may be made (to accommodate varying sizes of tart pans)—simply keep the ratio of ingredients the same. For every 1/3 c. of flour (1 1/3 oz., 38 gr.), use 2 T. of butter (1 oz., 28 gr.) and up to 1 T. of ice water.


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