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Eric Akis: Hints of green bring spring touch to creamy quiche

Special preparation makes egg filling smooth and custard-like when baked
web1_thumbnail_leek-and-aspargus-quiche
This springtime quiche is made with leeks, asparagus, tangy cheese and dill. ERIC AKIS

If you’re looking for a tasty, spring-green-accented egg dish to serve for Easter brunch, lunch or another special meal, consider a quiche filled with leeks, asparagus, dill and tangy cheese.

It’s the type of quiche where, rather than pour the egg mixture directly into the crust, you warm the cream to the scalding point, then slowly beat the cream into the beaten eggs, resulting in an egg filling that is smooth, creamy and custard-like when baked, a very good thing.

Before the warmed egg mixture is poured in, the crust is blind-baked, or baked without the filling. To prevent the crust from puffing when you blind-bake it, you prick the bottom with a fork before setting it the oven, then line it with foil and fill it with raw rice, dried beans or pie weights.

You need to blind-bake the crust for this style of quiche because the egg mixture is warm and cooks more quickly. If you put it into a raw crust, the crust would take longer to cook than the filling and the eggs would overcook.

You can use your favourite pie-dough recipe for the crust, or use my recipe.

To ensure the final preparation of the quiche went smoothly, I had the crust blind-baked and the leeks, asparagus and dill prepped and ready to go before making the egg mixture.

Although the quiche will be at its best shortly after baking, it could be baked up to a day in advance, then cooled, covered with foil and refrigerated.

When you’re ready to serve, set the foil-covered quiche in a 350 F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or so, until hot.

Leek and Asparagus Quiche

This quiche, with a savoury, custard-like filling, is rich with sautéed leeks, bits of asparagus, tangy cheese and fresh dill. You could serve it with a nice green salad.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

Makes: six to eight servings

1 (10-inch/25 cm) deep-dish piecrust (see recipe below)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 3/4 cups sliced leeks (see Note 1)

9 (not overly thick) asparagus spears, tough lower stems trimmed or snapped off

1 1/4 cups half and half (10 per cent) cream

5 large eggs

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill, or to taste (divided, see Eric’s options)

125 grams Gouda or Gouda-style cheese, grated (divided, see Note 2 and Eric’s options)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prick bottom of the piecrust several times with a fork. Carefully line the piecrust with foil, and then fill with pie weights, raw rice or dried beans. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove crust from the oven; carefully remove the foil and weights and then cool to room temperature (see Note 3).

While it cools, heat the oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, but not browned — about six to seven minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Pour four inches of water into a pot that’s wide enough to cook the asparagus, set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until bright green and tender, about three minutes. Drain asparagus well, cool with ice-cold water, then drain well again.

Line a plate with paper towel. Cut two inches of the top of each asparagus spear. Now cut each of those asparagus tips in half lengthwise and set on one side of the paper towel-lined plate. Slice the bottom pieces of asparagus, widthwise, into 1/2-inch rounds and set on the other of the plate.

Preheat oven to 350 F again. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until the yolks and whites are thoroughly blended. Place the cream in a small pot, set over medium heat and bring to just below the simmering point. Remove from the heat. Very, very slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the cream into the eggs to temper them. Now slowly whisk in the remaining cream. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper.

Place half the grated cheese into the bottom of the piecrust. Top the cheese with three quarters of the leeks and the rounds of asparagus. Sprinkle in half the dill. Pour in the egg mixture. Top with the remaining cheese and leeks. Set on the halved tips of asparagus, cut-side-down. Sprinkle with remaining dill.

Bake quiche in the middle 30 to 35 minutes, or until the egg mixture is set. Let quiche rest 10 minutes or so before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note 1: Two small, or one large, leek should yield the 1 3/4 cups of sliced leeks required for the recipe. Only use the more tender white and pale-green parts of the leek. Save the rest for stock. To prepare the leek, trim off the hairy root end and then cut in half lengthwise. Wash away any dirt, dry the leek and it’s ready to be cut into 1/2-inch or so thick slices.

Note 2: I used Amsterdammer cheese when testing this recipe. Courtenay’s Natural Pasture Cheese Company makes it. For a list of the many Vancouver Island food stores selling it, go to naturalpastures.com. 125 grams of cheese, grated, is about 1 1/2 cups.

Note 3: If you weighted the crust with rice or beans, once cooled, place them in a jar and store them until you need to blind-bake a piecrust again.

Eric’s options: If you don’t care for dill, try another fresh herb in this quiche, such as chopped tarragon, or snipped chives. Other types of tangy cheese will also work in this quiche, such as Swiss and aged cheddar.

Flaky Pie Dough

This recipe makes enough dough for two single-crust pies. It freezes well, so use half the dough to make the crust for the quiche and freeze the other half for another time.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Enough dough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Eric’s options)

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup ice-cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry cutter or two forks, or with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cut the shortening and butter into the flour until well blended. Pour the egg/water mixture into the bowl; gently work it until it forms loose, moist dough.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, shape the dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Press each half into a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate one disk of dough for at least 20 minutes before rolling out. Wrap and freeze the other piece of pie dough for another time.

When dough has chilled, set out a 10-inch (25-cm), four-cup capacity pieplate. Unwrap the dough and set on the floured work surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough from the centre out into a round large enough to fit your pie plate. Don’t push too firmly — let the roller do the work. Turn the dough an eighth of a turn after each roll; this will help create a round shape and at the same time you can make sure the dough is not sticking. Sprinkle additional flour on the rolling pin and under the dough as necessary.

When the round of dough is ready, carefully fold in half and lay it across the centre of the pie plate. Then unfold and gently nestle the dough into the pan. Simply press the dough back together if any cracks form during this process.

Crimp the top edges of the piecrust to create a festive design and trim off any excess dough from the side of the plate. Refrigerate the piecrust at least 20 minutes and it is ready to blind-bake and use for the quiche.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.