I was a quiche-making dynamo on Thursday.
Once a month, I cook lunch for a special group of people, about 24 in number, who are either clients or volunteers at a weekly respite care program. I call it my own Third Thursday Café. Everyone there is connected by the scourge of dementia in some form — Alzheimer’s, in my family’s case. We love someone with the disease, or we’ve lost someone to the disease, or we have the disease, or we just want to give a suffering caretaker a break from the disease. I qualify on three out of four counts.
Sharing good food is a pleasure, and providing that experience is my way of giving back to people who enhanced my mother’s last years on the planet. Besides, this is the most appreciative bunch of diners for whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to cook.
On the menu this week: Ham and Green Pepper Quiche for meat-eaters, Mushroom and Green Pepper Quiche for vegetarians. Green pepper haters were out of luck.
The basis for the recipe comes from a little book that got away. I only made a note of the title, The Complete Book of Pizza, when I transcribed a copy of the recipe in a notebook 30 years ago. Then I tossed the book into a box for donating to the local library. I must have looked at the other recipes in the book and decided they weren’t for me, but, in cooking (and loving) all the variations of quiche over the years that were based on this one recipe, I suspect I tossed the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.
Oh, well. I’ll always have quiche.
Ham and Green Pepper Quiche
1 chilled, unbaked pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan, edges of pastry fluted
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped ham
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup half-and-half
2 large eggs
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450°F. Bake pie crust blind for 8-10 minutes. [One method of baking blind: Cut a piece of heavy-duty foil large enough to fit inside the bottom and sides of the pastry-lined pie pan. The foil doesn’t have to fit precisely, but it should be large enough to cover the bottom, sides, and part of the edges. Lightly coat one side of the foil with non-stick spray, then press gently (sprayed side down) on top of the pastry, molding it against the bottom and sides.] Remove pan from oven after 8-10 minutes, and carefully remove foil. Quickly prick pastry all over with a fork to release any air bubbles. Return pastry to oven without foil and continue baking 4 minutes. Most of the pastry should look dry at this point, but not colored. Transfer to a rack to cool for a few minutes before adding filling.
Reduce oven temperature to 400°F.
While the pastry is baking, you can start cooking the onions. Heat the butter in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter begins to sizzle, add chopped onions and sauté for 6 minutes, until the onion is translucent and tender. Remove from heat and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Scrape onto a plate to cool.
In a medium bowl, combine grated cheeses and 1 1/2 teaspoons flour. Toss to combine. Add chopped ham and green pepper, and combine thoroughly.
Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl, then whisk in the half-and-half, a little salt, and a pinch of nutmeg. Beat custard to combine.
Spread the cooked onions evenly over the bottom of the partially-baked pastry. Cover with the cheese mixture, and pour the custard slowly and carefully over the top. (Be sure not to let it overflow the pastry sides.) Sprinkle top with a little more salt and some freshly-ground black pepper.
Bake at 400°F. for 15 minutes, and then reduce heat to 325°F. and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers are excellent for breakfast, reheated in a microwave.
Quiche is infinitely adaptable, like pizza and omelets. For a mushroom and green pepper quiche, slice about 8 ounces of cleaned mushrooms and sauté them in a little butter until their liquid has been exuded and then reabsorbed. Season with salt and pepper, allow to cool, and then use just like the ham in this recipe. Also good: placing rounds of sliced tomatoes on top of the unbaked quiche after pouring in the custard, then seasoning and baking as directed.