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Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Chickens: Crustless Quiche

Local, farm fresh eggs

My sidekick, Maggie
Cold nights and warming days signal the true coming of spring in the north woods. While snow still sits in patches on the ground in my yard, that most beautiful sign of spring is also present: mud. As Maggie and I begin to walk the neighborhood again, the snow melt creates little rivers along the road. Cars driving past crush any white stuff still on the road into a slushy mess; frozen tonight but gone tomorrow. 

Maggie lags behind me today, nose to the soil wherever it appears through the snow along the roadside. She closes her eyes and intently breathes in some other-worldly scent that wholly absorbs her attention. “Spring! The smells, finally”. I kick at a patch of snow near the mailbox at the end of our neighborhood saunter and wonder if this is the last of the stuff for this year.

last season's echinacea

Mail in hand, I aimlessly wander through the perennial garden back toward the house. The tall, ghostly- grey stems of Shasta daisies stand stark and brittle-dry in the mushy soil. Birds have been feeding on the echinacea seeds, leaving some with a look strangely reminiscent of Maynard Keenan's mohawk.

I am shocked to discover swollen buds on my black currant bushes even though their feet are firmly planted in 6” of snow and rhubarb, beginning to crown under the thick, snow cone like, slushy snow. The plants seem to know that spring is here, no matter what the weather.

One sure sign of spring for me is the return of an abundance of wonderfully flavorful, farm fresh eggs. A side by side comparison of yolk color and flavor will make you a convert in a moment if you have not become hooked already. (The USDA considers eggs “fresh” until 45 days after they are packed – our tax dollars at work, once again.)

One of the henhouse gang

Today is 'town day' and I take the opportunity to stop at The Farm at St. Mathias for fresh eggs along my travels. Arlene's hens have just begun to lay again after their winter molt – a sort of rest period mother nature sends these feathered ladies in the coldest months of the year.

In our age of everything-all-the-time, we sometimes forget that even eggs have a season. Farmers routinely used to cover eggs in melted lard and overwinter them in sand or sawdust for the months when the chickens were not laying. When removed, they simply washed the egg and then tested it by placing it in water. If the egg floated, it was bad, if it sank to the bottom, it was a 'good egg'.

Flavors of Spring

These eggs, generously given up by Arlene's 30 or so chatty hens, are destined to become a crustless quiche, thick and custardy and full of spring flavors: asparagus, leeks and cremini mushrooms. This crustless version is faster, easier for those who become consternated by pastry crust and makes for a slightly lower calorie version of a classic dish.

Crustless Quiche, fresh from the oven

Springtime Quiche
This quiche can be served warm, cold or at room temperature. It is a lovely luncheon entrée along with a small salad or a quick-to-reheat breakfast that keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for a few days.

1 fresh Leek, light colored part only, cut into rings and washed
4-5 large Cremini Mushrooms, sliced
1/3 pound of fresh, local (if you can find it) Asparagus
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
½ tsp dry Dill Leaves
Kosher Salt and ground White Pepper, to taste
¾ cup freshly grated Gruyere Cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
5 large, Farm Fresh Eggs
½ cup Sour Cream
½ tsp Dijon Mustard
12 oz rBGH-Free Heavy Cream

Cut light colored parts of leek into thin rings, rinse well, pulling them apart as you rinse to remove any sand. Slice the mushrooms and break or cut the asparagus into 1” pieces.

Lightly saute the veggies

Heat olive oil in a pan and saute the leeks, mushrooms and asparagus until asparagus is just crisp/tender and the colors have brightened. Season with the dill, salt and pepper. Cool slightly, toss with the cheeses and place into the bottom of a lightly buttered 10” deep dish pie pan.

 In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream and mustard. Add the cream. Add another pinch of dill if you like and lightly season with salt and pepper to taste (the cheeses will contribute more salt – don't go crazy).

Carefully pour the custard mixture over the veggies and cheeses in the pie pan. Place the dish in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes until the custard is set and the quiche is golden brown. If the center looks like it is still liquid, give it more time. Think pumpkin pie.

Little pockets of melted cheese run throughout the quiche

Once the quiche is ready, remove it and cool slightly before serving. It may be served warm, cool or at room temperature. It also keeps well in the refrigerator and reheats nicely (30 seconds at a time) in the microwave for a quick breakfast. 6-8 servings

Recipe Notes:
  • Overbaking the quiche will make the custard break and result in a rubbery texture. Bake until the center is just fully set and the top is golden brown.
  • Experiment with different flavor combinations and cheeses:
    • diced ham, swiss cheese and diced green onions
    • chorizo sausage, cheddar cheese, red onion and peppers
    • spinach, bacon, artichokes, shallots and fontina cheese
    • butter-sauteed, diced green onions and crabmeat with Gruyere or Emmental Cheese
  • Lightly oil the baking dish or you will create a 'fried egg' crustiness on the bottom of your quiche.
  • Cremini mushrooms are simply Portabella mushrooms that haven't grown up yet. You will sometimes see them labeled as 'baby bellas'.
  • rGBH is a hormone given to dairy cattle to make them produce more milk. There is a great deal of information available on the web and Monsanto, its maker, has gone to great lengths to keep negative information about its affects on both cows and humans wrapped up tightly. If your milk carton is not labeled rGBH free, it isn't. Check your local COOP for great sources of local rGBH free milk in your area.
  • Leeks grow in layers and can hold onto sand from the soil. To keep grit out of your lovely custard, always wash leeks thoroughly after slicing, separating the rings.
  • Buy your cheese from a reputable shop. A good cheese monger will allow you to taste before you buy, will know how the cheeses should be best used and can direct you to others you might like. Morey's Market in Baxter is the best source for quality cheese in my area. Beats the heck out of guessing in a mega-chain grocery store.
  • If you are worried about a bad egg ruining your dish, break them into a dish, one by one, before adding them to the main mixing bowl. I rarely, if ever, come across bad eggs.

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