One of the first signs that spring has arrived is the availability of bright green vegetables, like asparagus. There is something special about an asparagus spear emerging from the ground. Right now asparagus is available at the Union square Greenmarket. In the supermarket it's available all-year round, but the best time to get pencil-thin asparagus is during springtime. It's at its most tender and succulent. Steamed for a few minutes, roasted, or grilled, asparagus is a delightful vegetable prepared in any which way. Its color becomes vivid green after cooking and for me that represents the essence of spring.
I enjoy eating asparagus in many forms, but I like it most in quiche, one of the favorite brunch foods here in the States. Though the French even eat it for lunch or dinner. Quiche was originally meant just for breakfast in the French province of Lorraine, from where it originated. Surprisingly the tradition of quiche-making comes from a time when Lorraine belonged to Germany. The dish used to be called kuchen, which is German for cake, and instead of a pie crust, it was made with bread dough—basically a pizza. Once the region changed rule, the German name was eventually transliterated into French and the recipe changed too. The most well-known recipe is Quiche Lorraine, filled with just bacon.
Now quiches come in all varieties and can be enjoyed at any mealtime of the day. Pair it with a simple salad, and the meal is complete. I also like it with a glass of Chardonnay! For this quiche recipe, I keep the vegetable options simple with just asparagus. And for a bit of meat I add crisped bacon. The custard is supplemented with a continental blend of three cheeses: Swiss Gruyère, Danish Fontina, and Italian Mozzarella. There is no set-in-stone formula for quiche, but rule number one is always start with a good homemade pie crust and then top it with your choice of melting cheeses and sautéed or roasted vegetables.
Asparagus, Bacon, and Cheese Quiche
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed of tough ends
1 tablespoon olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon (about 6 slices), diced
tart shell, recipe follows
1 cup grated Gruyère
1 cup grated Fontina
1 cup grated Mozzarella
3 large eggs
8 ounces crème fraîche (1 cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Toss asparagus with oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes. Trim ends so that asparagus fits the width of tart pan. Chop the ends and use in filling.
Fry bacon in a skillet set over medium heat until crisp and most of the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a bowl.
Layer baked tart shell with cheeses, bacon, and the chopped asparagus ends. Line the top with the roasted spears.
In a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together eggs, crème fraîche, and heavy cream. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour over filled quiche. Bake until custard is set and puffed, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before removing from pan. Let cool completely on a rack. Serve with salad. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add butter and work with a pastry blender until mixture resembles course meal. Add ice water a little at a time and mix until dough comes together. Form the dough into a flat disc and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour before rolling.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Roll out dough on a well floured work surface to fit a 7-by-11-inch fluted tart pan. Carefully lay dough over pan. Press dough into the corners. Remove excess dough by running rolling pin over pan. Fill any holes or cracks with excess dough.
Chill shell for 10 minutes. Using a fork, prick the bottom of the pan all over. Line the inside of the pan with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes. Then carefully remove pie weights with foil. Continue to bake until light brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely.