We are entering our third week of unpacking. We had thought that by now we would be able to have Carol and her family over for our alternating family Sunday dinner. Unfortunately that was not to be although our kitchen is in good enough order to do some cooking. This week I was scheduled to make the main dish and sides. Carol was scheduled to make appetizers and dessert. The modified modified plan was for me to cook in our kitchen and then take it to Carol’s house for the dinner.
Carol made some outstanding appetizers and a delicious bread pudding (I forgot to make the promised whiskey sauce, but not to worry – there was whipped cream and/or ice cream to substitute.) Carol calls the appetizers puff pastry pinwheels. She had two kinds: pesto and sun-dried tomato. She says that the family’s favorite is prosciutto. It would have to be great to beat the two that she baked. Her bread pudding was made from an extra Christmas panettone augmented with chocolate and raisins.
Puff pastry pinwheels
For the main dish I roasted a whole chicken along with Hasselbach potatoes. The challenge was the green vegetable. This time of year you can always find broccoli, broccolini, and green beans, but for me they have worn out their welcome. I know that summer squash is out of season, but in Southern California everything seems to be in season all year long. Unfortunately zucchini often cooks up watery with not much color. I decided to combine it with another watery vegetable but with more color: spinach. And mushrooms. Cheese and mushrooms sounded like good additions, and suddenly you have the makings of a quiche. The crust was definitely too much effort and too filling for a side dish, but the stand-alone filling sounded good.
Here’s the whole menu – puff pastry pinwheels, roast chicken, Hasselbach potatoes, zucchini-spinach un-quiche, and panettone bread pudding.
Baby spinach leaves
Zucchini and spinach un-quiche
Zucchini and Spinach Un-Quiche
- 3 medium zucchini
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 generous handfuls, more or less, fresh baby spinach
- 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons Pernod
- 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup panko
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Wash the zucchini and cut off the stems. Grate with the coarse side of a box grater. In a clean towel or with clean hands, squeeze as much liquid as you can from the grated zucchini.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the grated squash and sauté until the squash gives up its liquid. Then add the spinach and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and they have given up their liquid. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add Pernod
- Transfer the mixture to a strainer. Drain. Use a heavy spoon to press out as much moisture as you can. Place in a well-buttered 2 quart baking dish or soufflé bowl. Top with grated Swiss cheese.
- Combine the well-beaten eggs and cream. Add a little bit more salt and pepper. Pour over the zucchini/spinach mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the top with panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour or until bubbling and well-browned. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm.
- The casserole will deflate as it cools. It will not reinflate with reheating, but it will still taste good if it is rewarmed.
- You can turn this into quiche by baking it in a blind-baked pie shell at the same temperature for the same time.
- You can turn it into a soufflé by separating the eggs, combining yolks with the cream, and gently folding in the stiffly-beaten egg whites. Use the same time and temperature.
This project started with a Nordic Ware 8.5 or 10 inch quiche and tart pan (not sure about the measurements – wider at the top than the bottom) that I bought from our local kitchen store for another project. The pan is a little deep for some tarts, but it is perfect for pie-like fillings, and it seemed to insist that I make a quiche. The removable bottom is convenient for unmolding the quiche, but an ordinary pie pan will work just fine.
Tart and quiche pan with removable bottom
I confess that making a quiche from scratch is usually more than I want to undertake, so this time I decided to use all of the short-cut methods I could find. This approach included buying a ready-made pie crust from the refrigerator section at the grocery store, along with pre-diced ham. I could have also used ready-shredded Swiss cheese, but shredding my own seemed simple enough.
With a little rolling, I made the pie crust big enough to fit easily into the pan. I baked it blind, so even though the crust started out at the edge of the pan, there was a little shrinkage and the sides were not as tall as they could be. I chilled the unbaked crust for a half-hour in the refrigerator to reduce shrinkage – which it did – but there was still some. The other challenge of baking blind is that you need to prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from rising in the middle. Then, when you fill the partially baked crust with a liquid to be baked, you run the risk of leaks. I dealt with that problem by making a thick paste of flour and water so that when the crust had cooled but had not been filled, I dabbed some of the paste on all of the fork holes to seal them. No leaks, but as additional insurance I baked the filled quiche on a baking sheet. I also baked it in the pan even though one should be able to remove the pan before you bake the filled quiche. I’m just naturally cautious.
Finally, figuring out when the quiche is done is always a challenge. Usual instructions include stabbing the center with a knife to see if it comes out clean, or jiggling the quiche to see if the center is too liquid. You don’t have to do either of those tricks. If you watch carefully while the quiche is baking you will notice that it first begins to firm up around the edges in a ring, and that ring of cooked quiche works its way to the middle until the whole pie top has the same appearance. That’s the sign it is done. You don’t want it to overbake or it will be rubbery, but you don’t want it to underbake or you will have soup. For me, watching the top cook inward remains the most reliable way to determine when the quiche is done.
Fresh from the oven and still on the baking sheet.
Finished quiche up on a jar so that the ring can be removed.
Ready to serve
A generous slice
- 1 9-inch prepared pie crust, thawed if frozen
- paste made of equal parts of flour and water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ medium red onion, diced
- 5 medium mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- 2 jumbo eggs
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 ounces diced ham
- ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
- 1 tablespoon chilled butter cut into 16 small pieces
- Follow directions on the package for preparing the pie crust. On a flat surface, roll it out with a rolling-pin so that it will fit into your baking pan with a little extra over the edges. Transfer the prepared crust to the pan, pressing it firmly against the bottom and the sides. Do not trim the edges until you have chilled the unbaked crust. Prick the bottom in several places with a fork. Chill in the refrigerator for 3o minutes.
- When you are ready to blind-bake the crust, remove it from the refrigerator, trim off the edge of the crust with your finger. If you are using a regular pie pan, crimp the edge as you would normally. Line the pie shell with a square of non-stick aluminum foil, non-stick side down, and pressing firmly. Fill the foil lining with beans or pie weights, and bake the pie shell in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, and remove the foil and weights. Prick the bottom again with a fork in several places and return to the oven for 2 more minutes or until the crust has very lightly browned. Remove from the oven, and cool completely. Inspect for holes made by the fork. Dab any holes with the flour/water paste and set the crust aside until you are ready to fill it.
- In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the onions and cook until they are translucent. Add the mushrooms, cover, and cook for a minute or two until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Remove the cover and continue to simmer for a few minutes until the liquid has boiled off and the mushrooms have started to brown. Remove from the heat. Cool completely.
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs until well combined. Add the cream, salt and pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the cooled onion/mushroom mixture. At this point, you can refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to complete the quiche.
- When you are ready to bake the quiche, spread the diced ham on the bottom of the partially baked pie shell. Ladle the egg, cream, onion, and mushroom mixture over the ham. You should have about 2½ cups of the liquid which should just fill the Nordic quiche pan about ¾ full. Do not fill more than that, or the filling may over-run the sides of the crust when it puffs up during baking.
- Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the filling, dot with the bits of butter, and bake in the upper third of an oven preheated to 375° for about 40 minutes. Toward the end of the baking time, check the top of the quiche to see if it has set to the middle. When the quiche is set, turn off the oven, crack the oven door ajar, and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. If you are using a tart pan, balance the pan on a wide support so that the ring can fall away. With a broad spatula, transfer the quiche to a serving plate. If you have a hard time removing the quiche from the pan bottom, just serve it with the bottom on the plate – not as elegant, but it will work.
- Serve while warm. Makes excellent cold leftovers. Should serve 4 to 6 depending on what else you are having.