It may be the twilight hour for spring but I’m savoring as much fresh asparagus as I can get. You know those ethereally green, snappy twigs of juicy, crispy, woody goodness won’t be in season for much longer here in the Northeast. If you’ve been simply grilling them like I have been a lot these short pre-summer nights—or perhaps enjoying them raw in a lightly dressed salad—then you may be ready to coddle them with some eggs, cheese and buttery pastry next.
This quiche may be a kiss goodbye for asparagus, while more seasonal produce arrivals overwhelm our senses. I’ve been tending to an elaborate mini garden on my fire escape, and I’m seeing squash blossoms come into full bloom with tiny yellow summer squash logs anchoring them to the stem. The tomato plants have not fruited yet, but the many yellow flowers on them tell me that they’ll soon be starting to inflate. The pea tendrils are clasping onto everything as their pods grow bigger by the day. Pretty soon, I will be maddened by their constant thirst for water, and grappling with how to use up everything in my CSA. But for now, the calm before the summer produce storm is this simple asparagus quiche.
If you’ve made any kind of quiche before, then you know what to do. But if not, fear not—it takes only a few staple formulas, which will become ingrained in your consciousness after one or two times. The first is the pastry: I approach this the same way as any pie, savory or sweet. That means cutting cold cubes of butter with flour and plenty of salt, rubbing the mixture as if snapping my fingers in the bowl until no pieces of butter are larger than the size of a pea. (It must be a good exercise for hands that are keyboard-sore.) Then adding just enough water so that the stuff comes together in a ball.
The next formula you will absorb and keep on hand forever is the egg mixture. I am not partial to making quiches extremely dairy-rich, but a little milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream or even full-fat yogurt is requisite here, if we’re going to call it quiche. This is after all a French dish, popularized by the famous Quiche Lorraine of that Northeastern region, rife with dairying like its neighboring Alsace. Cheese is used usually in quiche, too, but I went for a not-French but Greek sheep’s cheese, feta (one of the world’s oldest cheeses) for a slight tang that is so lovely with vegetables. I also added some chopped scallions, just in season, for another spring touch.
No matter how much richness, any quiche filling can be made slightly more custard-like if you whip it well. Get some air bubbles going to lighten the mixture like mousse. For this task, I stuck an immersion blender into the bowl to both mix my eggs and dairy and froth it a little. Heavier quiche fillings taste no worse, so no worries if you don’t bother with this step. A preheated oven will also leaven your quiche and eating it piping hot and fresh out of the oven (unlike other pies, which may need time to settle) is often the best thing.
You could substitute fresh, finely chopped raw broccoli here for the asparagus, as I have many times. The firmer the vegetable, the finer you may want to chop it. I don’t see the need to cook finely sliced asparagus before folding it into the egg mixture for a quiche, but note that its liquids will cook into the quiche, adding more water to the proteins and fat. (For really watery vegetables, like spinach, chard or zucchini, I’d recommend sauteeing them first.)
The last sputters of spring—and spring’s delicate produce, like asparagus—are nothing to miss out on. Get your ticket now while they last.
Asparagus and Feta Quiche
(makes one 9″ quiche, or about 8 servings)
for the crust:
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut to small cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons cold water
for the rest:
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk, cream or half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
about 4 oz crumbled feta
1 bunch (about 12 stalks) thin asparagus, finely sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Combine the flour and salt and gradually cut the flour mixture into the butter with a pastry cutter or your hands, until the chunks of butter are no larger than a pea. Add a tablespoon of the water at a time until there is just enough moisture for the dough to hold together into a ball. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and let chill for 30 minutes (or up to a day ahead).
Beat the eggs and dairy with the salt and pepper until the mixture is bubbly. Stir in the sliced vegetables.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the pastry and press it into a 9″ pie pan. Crimp or neatly smoothen out the edges. Pour in the egg mixture. Scatter the crumbled feta all over. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edges are golden-brown. Let cool several minutes or up to a few hours, and top with the optional fresh herbs before serving.
(for 1 tart, or 8-10 servings)
6 tablespoons butter (at $6/lb): $1.00
1 1/2 cups flour: $0.50
1 bunch asparagus: $5.00
4 eggs: $2.00
1 cup milk: $1.00
4 oz crumbled feta: $2.00
Five brownie points: No one would advocate for quiche as a healthy breakfast—so full of butter, cream and cheeses it often is. But it makes a great party side, which is how I usually enjoy them. Cut to little slivers, everyone gets a few bites of creamy bliss—as well as asparagus, which is a powerhouse of Vitamin K and other vitamins and minerals.
Seven maple leaves: Keeping with in-season vegetables, you can make a quiche any time of the year. All it takes are a few eggs, flour and dairy to go with whatever veggie, cheese and meat combination you can dream of.