Wednesday, 14 January 2009

the caramel, the onion, the crust

Quiche is a wonderful thing. Back in August, when I was visiting Ian's parents in Belgium, his mother Lynne made quite a few of them, throwing whatever she had in the fridge onto store bought pastry, covering it with a mixture of eggs and milk, and throwing it in the oven for a wonderfully inexact amount of time. All good cooks, they are a low maintenance recipe family.

So just because I like to make things difficult for myself, I finally decided to tackle the quiche this afternoon, beginning with a hunk of butter and a couple cups of flour. Along with plenty of onions, some mushrooms left over from last weekend's pizza adventure, and some gruyere cheese, I had the ingredients for something promising.

I began with the pastry which, until a visit to Leicester to see my friend Inez last week, has always kind of been daunting to me. Recipes for pastry always seem so fussy, with temperatures to adhere to and only certain amount of mixing allowed and baking blind and so on. But my friend Inez is the kind of person who just dives right in, not really worrying about all the excess fiddly stuff other people might think important. So when we sat on the couch dreaming about apple pie, I breathed a sigh of relief when she got the ball rolling, and dug her hands into a bowl of flour and chopped butter. Her stepmom advised us to put in twice as much flour as butter, with just a pinch of salt. Martha Stewart, however, recommends a touch of sugar for a dessert pastry.

In the end, the apple pie was delicious, especially the crust. Perfectly buttery and flaky and browned, something that would make a great base for my quiche. So today I mixed up the base, leaving out the sugar, and put it in the fridge to chill, while I spent the next hour (yes hour) caramelizing two onions. Caramelizing requires little effort, a lot of time, and generally an episode of Diagnosis Murder to accompany you, a 90's Dick Van Dyke television show that I had never heard of in the states, but plays here every afternoon on the BBC. And who can resist that amazing white mustache?

I fried up some mushrooms, just enough to brown them and leach the liquid, and then I beat together eggs, milk, and cheese.
Once assembled, baked, and cooled a bit, the recipes were fantastic. The onions crowded through the delicate egg custard, with an addictive salty sweetness, and the mushrooms gave just enough meaty bite to hold against the flaky pastry. And yes, maybe it is a bit of a fussy recipe, a bit time consuming, but still, so worth it.

Note: Since we don't have a quiche pan in the house, I made my quiche in a 9 by 9 cake pan, which worked quite well and gave me a somewhat thicker quiche than the thin wide ones usually served from Lynne's oven.

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Quiche

For the Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter
2-3 tbsp ice water

1) Mix the flour and salt in a small bowl. Have a glass of ice water ready.

2) Cut the butter into small pieces, then add to flour. With your hands or with a pastry cutter, mix together till pieces of butter are mostly blended in, and the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal.

3) Add two tbsp of ice water and mix together. You want the mixture to hold together without being too sticky. Add water a little bit at a time if you need more.

4) When dough comes together, flatten into a disk, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the filling:
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
10-15 chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly.
3/4 cup gruyere cheese
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper

1) Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a small burner. On medium heat, fry the onions till they begin to brown in spots, then immediatly turn them down as low as the burner will go. You want to cook them as long as possible without burning them, stirring every few minutes. The longer they cook, the deeper caramel color they will get, and the satinier the texture. This step is totally worth the time.

2) When onions are done, set aside. Add mushrooms to hot pan and fry for just a few minutes in residual oils. The mushrooms should brown a bit and leach their liquids. Set aside.

3) Beat eggs and milk in a bowl. Add cheese, salt and pepper.

4) Roll out the crust on a clean floured surface. My wasnt perfect, and tore in a few places, but it just patched up the holes once I got it in the pan. The crust should be 1/4 to an 1/8 inch thin. Place in pan, tucking in to the corners and pressing up the sides. I like a good edge crust, so I added bits to the top edge to make it bigger.

5) Drain any liquid from the mushrooms, and arrange in a layer on the crust. Follow with the onions, then pour the egg mixture over it.

6) Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

*a week or so later, I made this again, adding a half bag of spinach that I wilted and then layered. Results were just as yummy, plus extra spinach goodness.

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