Sunday, 17 May 2009

asparagus quiche in a rush ...

So after the craziness of buying and cooking food and finding Estonians for Eating Eurovision, I was up early yesterday morning to make a quiche to take down to the coast for a family get together.

Raynsford's were nearly out of British asparagus - surely the season can't be over just yet - but I managed to pick up a couple of choice bundles, some lovely looking jersey royals and half a dozen eggs amongst other things ... as well as a chat about what I was cooking. Sometimes I feel they think I secretly have a houseful of children with all the produce I buy there.

Anyway, asparagus quiche - my mother's recipe. Pastry isn't something I've ever worried about. I will confess I've never made puff pastry, but shortcrust and to a lesser extent pâte sucrée haven't caused me any problems thus far. As well as fat and flour, you need two other things ... the cold, and an aloof Gallic attitude. The secret to good pastry, especially shortcrust, is to pretend you're not really making it at all.

the pastry

As a general rule, you need half as much flour as fat. So, 8oz flour to 4oz fat, 6:3 etc etc. The kind of fat you use will depend on what kind of thing you're making, but combinations of Stork block margarine, butter and lard are all acceptable. I'm not sure whether using Stork is incredibly plebeian or not, but it makes such easy, really 'short' ie slightly crumbly pastry that in this case I am happy to be down-market. More lard is great for meaty things and true indulgence, butter has a great flavour for lemon, rhubarb or tart apple tarts, but adding Stork will make your life easier and your pastry shorter promise. Also, I'd happily use this savory crust for a sweet flan but you can add sugar a couple of tablespoons of sugar if you like

For my 28cm non-stick, loose-bottomed flan tin I use the following

7oz plain flour
3 1/2 oz fat - half butter, half Stork ... straight from the fridge
good pinch salt
a little water

Put the sifted flour and the salt in a large mixing bowl, then add the cold fat in little cubes

Using just your finger tips, rub the fat into the flour gently, it should end up have a consistency like breadcrumbs. If you are one of those people with perpetually cold hands like my mother, you have found your calling in making pastry. If you have warm hands, run them under a cold tap and pat them dry before you start, open a window ... just keep it cold. If the fat melts you don't have all those tiny little pockets of air which are the reason for the crumbliness

Once you have your bread crumbs, mix in a tiny bit of cold water - maybe 2 tbsp - with a metal fork. Keep adding the water a tiny tiny bit at a time, adding just enough to bring the pastry into a ball. At this stage it should only just be sticking together. Touch it as little as possible, working pastry activates the gluten in the flour ... good for bread and pizza, bad for light crumbly pastry

Wrap your pastry in clingfilm, and stick it in the fridge to relax for at least half an hour

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C, 375 degrees F, and grease your flan tin, even if it's non-stick

When your pastry is ready, roll it out on a floured surface to the circumference of the tin plus one inch all the way round. I use a wooden rolling pin, but I have been eyeing marble ones lately for pastry making purposes

Line the tin with pastry, then roll the rolling pin over the edge of the tin, taking away the excess

Line the pastry case with foil taking care to cover all the edges so they don't catch in the oven, then fill with dried haricot beans or ceramic baking beans before placing in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes - I go for 10 in my fan oven

Baking the pastry case 'blind' in this way prevents your crust from ending up too moist and helps the bottom cook. The baking beans or haricot beans prevent the pastry from rising up into bubbles, providing a smooth evenly cooked surface for your filling

the filling

2 bunches slim asparagus spears lightly steamed
4 eggs, one separated
100ml milk or cream
1 cup grated cheese
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper

Brush the inside of the flan all over with egg white to seal it and stop it going soggy, and leave it to dry

Mix the eggs, including the remaining white and yolk with milk and seasonings then stir in the grated cheese

Arrange the spears artfully in the pastry case. My mother's tradition is to lay them like spokes on a wheel. The spears will probably be a little long so snip the ends off with scissors and either use the bits to fill in the gaps or sneak to one side for cook's perks, or more virtuously for risotto

Pour the egg mixture over the spears, and bake for 30 mins, checking after 20 to see if it needs a spin around to brown evenly

As a quick aside, I also made an Estonian salad from a recipe given to me by one of the many Eesti I bothered on Friday ...

3/4 cucumber cubed
two large ripe tomatoes, chopped into 1.5cm cubes (ish)
6 radishes thinly sliced
a few sprigs of dill finely chopped
sour cream

Put everything bar the sour cream and salt into a bowl and mix well .. then add enough sour cream to coat it, and salt to taste

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