Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quiche born again

Firtst published Canberra Times newspaper 30 March 2011.
I thought I knew how to make a good quiche, and had relegated it to the realms of the mundane. That was until I tried one here in an Alsace, the land where quiche was born. It is often eaten as an entrèe and is found in almost every boucherie and boulangerie in France.

Market morning Chatenois

It was on our arrival in Châtenois on a Tuesday night, late and cold, that we decided to hot-foot it down to the local village square to see if there was anywhere to have a meal. There seemed to be one cafe still open, so we trudged down the couple of stairs from the street, ducked our heads through the low doorway and walked in. It was warm, so we removed our layers of scarves, coats, hats and gloves and we were greeted with a warm ”bonsoir” from a woman, with a serving dish tucked under her arm who appeared to be the owner. When asked in our pidgeon French if she had a table for four, she furiously indicated that we had the wrong person and, as she headed out the door, steered us to the real patroness, Mme Huguette Schneider.

Mme Schneider had been in conversation with another table, a family with boisterous kids, and there were a couple of other single guests at tables. It was clear that this was a cafe for regulars, because the chatting momentarily stopped as we were shown to a table. Given Châtenois isn’t exactly a tourist mecca at this time of year, we appear to have been something of a novelty here. Locals seem unsure if we are English, American, Canadian or Australian, and it seems that it’s impolite to ask.

She brought us the menu which offered only three or four choices and all but one of us chose the quiche. I could see her preparing our meals in the kitchen, and she pulled a large quiche from the fridge and reheated 3 portions in the oven. My mind immediately turned to dried out pastry and leathery eggs but, to my delight, the pastry was buttery and just crisp and the filling creamy, with a hint of nutmeg. Parfait! Alongside the quiche was a fresh, crunchy salad with a light, piquant dressing - a perfect start to our gastronomic adventures in Alsace.

I have since learnt that the pâte brisée (pastry) should be made with salted butter and the migaine (filling) should be made with crème fraiche, but without cheese. Crème fraiche is not used in Australia to the extent it is here in France, so you may need to seek it out in the supermarket or deli. Tradition calls for smoked pork shoulder, but more recently lardons (cubes) of good smoked bacon are used. Controversial I know, but don’t add milk, cheese or salt to the mix as essentially this is a baked custard that should only be just set when removed from the oven. You can add some vegetables such as spinach, onion or peas, however I prefer mine straight to enjoy the delicate balance of flavours.

Pâte brisée (Shortcrust pastry)

200g flour
100g salted butter
pinch of salt

Make the shortcrust pastry by rubbing in the butter to the flour and salt till it resembles a breadcrumb texture. Once this is achieved, add a few tablespoons of cold water until a smooth pastry is formed. Knead lightly and roll out on a floured surface to fill a 28cm tart tin or pie dish. Chill the lined baking tin for 30 minutes, to reduce shrinkage of the pastry when cooked.

Migaine (Filling)

200g of good quality thick smoked bacon, cut into cubes or lardons
70ml of crème fraiche
4 large eggs
pinch of nutmeg, ground
pinch of pepper, ground

Lightly cook the bacon lardons without adding extra fat. Cook until lightly browned then drain on kitchen towel to soak up the fat, then set aside.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and crème fraiche lightly until just mixed and add in the pepper and nutmeg.

Take the chilled tart tin from the fridge and spread the bacon lardons across the base and gently pour the egg mixture in.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 210C for about 20-25 minutes or until the quiche is lightly browned and the pastry is just crispy. The quiche should still be a little wobbly in the centre.

Serve with a crispy salad with a piquant vinaigrette.