Sunday, August 18, 2019

Zucchini Quiche with Feta, Walnuts & Lemon


Because my work involves so many different cooking outlets (teaching—at more than one place, private dinners—in many different homes, working in a pastry shop, testing recipes for all of the above…not to mention for my blog…) I occasionally purchase way too much of an ingredient.  Most of the time I am able to absorb the extra into my own cooking…or one of the many outlets…without too much thought.  Recently however, I found myself in possession of an extra quart and a half of cream that I didn’t “need” for any of my work.  I love cream.  But a quart and a half is a lot of cream for a household of one!

I began to look for ways to use lots of cream.  I made my mother a batch of scones….  I made myself a batch of scones….  And I still had almost a quart.  At the same time, I also had an abundance of beautiful eggs (gifts from good friends who keep chickens).  So, I thought ice cream would be the solution.  But I didn’t have any milk…and I didn’t feel like adding to my stash of dairy…

Then I went to the farmers’ market.  Actually, I went to three in one morning—because I really do love going to farmers’ markets.  When I got home I discovered that in shopping at three locations without a list I had purchased way too much zucchini and summer squash (it was just so beautiful—I think it has been a good year for squash). 



As I looked at my abundance of squash, wondering how I was going to consume it before it started to go bad, I thought about my stash of cream and eggs….  Then I thought of quiche.  A standard size quiche would use up at least a cup of cream…plus a couple of eggs and a good portion of my squash.  As luck would have it, I also had a round of pate brisée in my freezer (always a good thing to have on hand!).  Clearly a zucchini quiche was meant to be.

Now I just had to decide how I wanted to cook the summer squash (Vegetables should always be cooked before adding them to a quiche. To learn why, check out my “quiche basics” post from a few years ago.)  …and what other flavors I wanted to add to compliment the squash.  For the cooking of the squash I decided to go with a method I described in a pasta salad post several years ago.  The squash is cooked in a sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil and a minimal amount of water.  As the squash cooks the water evaporates.  Tom Colicchio (the source of the method) calls the result ‘the essence of zucchini’:  tender zucchini that isn’t water-logged (as it would be if boiled) or caramelized (as it would be if sautéed or roasted).  I thought it would be a perfect way to prepare it for a quiche.


My inspiration for the remaining flavors began with the zucchini tart in Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure (which was the first recipe that popped into my mind when I began to think about a zucchini quiche).   Her tart is so tightly packed with zucchini slices that a cross-section looks like a mosaic.  It is the look I was striving for in my quiche.  She tops her tart with toasted breadcrumbs.  I loved the idea of a bit of crunch—and I love quiche topped with breadcrumbs—but I decided instead to get my crunch from some finely minced walnuts. 



Walnuts are one of my favorite companions for zucchini. The addition of lemon and garlic to this combination raises the flavor to one of those “greater than the sum of its parts” food experiences.  I don’t remember now where I first encountered this combination.  I wish I did, so I could give credit.  Zucchini can seem a bit bland and one dimensional—slightly bitter…with finer specimens exhibiting a nutty flavor profile.  The walnuts accentuate both of these things.  Garlic adds depth.  Lemon turns on the lights, allowing all the flavors to shine.  If you have never tried this combination of flavors, you should try making a side of simply sautéed zucchini, finished with garlic, lemon zest, a shower of chopped walnuts and a judicious amount of salt (and some parsley or thyme if you’re feeling fancy).  You will probably have a new favorite summer side dish.

All of these flavors were easily incorporated into the tart.  I added thyme to the zucchini as it cooked…and slipped the lemon and garlic into the custard.   And to get that little extra bit of salt that all of this requires, I added Feta.  Not only does Feta provide a nice tangy/salty accent, it can be cut into cubes (like the squash) and adds to the lovely mosaic look of the slices of quiche.  All in all, I found this tart to be unusually delicious—and a great way to use up some of that late summer abundance of zucchini (not to mention my own personal surplus of cream and eggs!).


Zucchini Quiche with Feta, Walnuts & Lemon

400 g./14 oz. small zucchini and/or summer squash, trimmed and cut into a 1/4- to 1/3-inch dice (see note)—a generous 3 cups
several sprigs of thyme, picked
1 1/2 t. olive oil
1/4 c. water (plus more as needed)
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 eggs
1 c. heavy cream
Zest of one medium or half of a large lemon
1 small clove of garlic
1 10-inch blind baked tart shell (see below)
1 1/2 oz. grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or a mix of the two—which is my preference)
4 oz. Feta (block in brine), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 c. walnuts (finely chopped)



In a very large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the zucchini, the picked thyme, a generous pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender and the water has evaporated.  This will take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size and age of the zucchini.  Add more water if the zucchini starts to brown. Transfer the zucchini to a baking sheet to cool.  If the zucchini is tender and the water hasn’t evaporated, spread the zucchini on paper towels to absorb the excess moisture. 

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add the cream and lemon zest.  Using a microplane zester (the same one you used for the lemon zest), grate the garlic clove into the bowl (if you don’t have a microplaner, smash the garlic to a purée with a pinch of salt and add).  Whisk until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the baked crust on a baking sheet.  Scatter half of the Parmesan/Pecorino over the crust. 



Next, add the squash and spread into an even layer.  Scatter the Feta evenly over the squash and use your fingers to nudge it into an even layer with the cooked squash. 


Slowly pour the custard over the squash and Feta, jiggling the pan a bit so the custard will be evenly distributed and will penetrate any pockets created by the squash and cheese. Be careful not to let the custard flow over the edge. If there are any low places in the edge of your crust, you will not be able to use it all. Scatter the remaining Parmesan/Pecorino over the tart, followed by the walnuts.



Bake the tart until the custard is set—about 25 to 30 minutes (a knife inserted in the center will come out clean). Slide the tart under the broiler to brown slightly if you like. Serves 6 as an entrée (with a salad or vegetable side), 8 to 10 as a light first course with a fluff of lightly dressed greens.


Note: 

  • The tart is very fragile if served right away.  If you don’t mind the zucchini slipping apart from the custard a bit as you eat, this isn’t a huge problem.  But if this bothers you, simply make the tart ahead—it slices beautifully if it has time to rest and set up.  And, it actually tastes better on subsequent days—the flavors having had time to develop and blend.
  • I have made this tart with both diced and sliced (scant 1/4-inch) zucchini.  When sliced, the “slipping” of the squash (previous note) is even more pronounced.  But slicing the zucchini is obviously faster than dicing…and as mentioned above, isn’t a problem after the tart has had a few hours to set up.
  • Parmesan is nutty—accenting the nuttiness of the squash and the walnuts.  Pecorino contributes a salty tang (like the Feta).  I like the inclusion of both—but one or the other would be fine too.


Pâte Brisée
(Short Crust Pastry)

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (113g)
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 the smaller measure of ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  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.  Form the finished dough into a thick disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter/spray a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan and set it aside.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8- to 1/6–inch thick and with a diameter 2 to 3 inches larger than that of the pan.  Trim any ragged edges.  Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Transfer it to the prepared pan.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Press the dough against the sides of the pan (being sure not to stretch the dough) and cut the dough off flush with the edge of the tart pan.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To blind bake, line the pastry with aluminum foil 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 20 to 25 minutes.  When the pastry begins to color on the edges and is cooked through, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a golden brown (another 5 minutes or so).

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