Some Salad-Adjacent Dishes
A mushroom and shallot quiche, a nice potato soup
IF I HEAR ONE PERSON—anyone!— making fun of quiche, I will burn this planet to the ground. I love quiche, whose golden era in the United States was as a salad-adjacent food. So it’s my official duty to remind everyone that a good quiche can be an otherworldly experience.
It can also be hard to find, at least in these parts.
It’s an ancient dish whose antecedents date back to medieval European tarts that were both sweet and savory; the Alsace region of Germany, which is where the Quiche Lorraine is said to have been invented, often wins in the contest with France over where the custard tart/pie originated. According to An A-Z of Food & Drink, by John Ayto, “the term quiche itself is a French version of kuche, a word from the German dialect of Lorraine.” I, personally, never hear anyone back from Berlin bragging about having a great slice of quiche while there. In Paris, however, you can walk into many cafes and find quiche on the menu.
But not in America, where, instead of celebrating it until the end of time, we treated it the way we did sun-dried tomatoes, by which I mean we threw a saddle on quiche and rode it so hard we had to put it out to pasture long before its time. We made it lame.
This bothers me because it made such a lovely meal.
By the time Bruce Feirstein’s 1982 satirical book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” came out, it felt like quiche was being offered as a lunch and brunch item in practically every single restaurant in America, from upscale department-store ladies-lunch counters to truck stops (not really; well, maybe)—often with a little nondescript salad by its side.
I definitely don’t want to go back to those days, because my memory is that by the time it had become a punchline a lot of the quiche being served was a hefty block of disagreeably firm custard in which leftovers from nicer meals had been suspended.
But I do want to remind everyone of a well-made quiche’s benefits and felicities, because I also want to see a Quiche Renaissance in America.
The custard for a quiche should be light, almost fluffy, and never eggy or rubbery. It should be mysterious and alluring rather than a blaring advertisement for one flavor—although quiche can obviously be anything you want it to be: full of meat or seafood, or assorted vegetables, or as simple as a few sautéed shallots, a bit of cheese, and some herbs.
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In a perfect world, your crust would always be flaky and never soggy—but I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not a baker and that I use those pre-made crusts that you unroll right into your pie or tart plate, like an edible diploma congratulating you for being so clever. I hate the frozen ones, which are thick and tawdry. I do have a great crust recipe for you, however.
One more thing: quiche, which makes great leftovers to tote along to work (because it will be room temperature when you take it out to eat it), also freezes well.
Which is how I finally got around to including quiche in the Department of Salad.
I’m in my hometown in Virginia this week with my cousin Toni, visiting her 86-year-old mother, aka my Aunt Mariah (who had a run-in with a raccoon the night I got here that is making her a minor internet celebrity). I’ve been making quiches for Mariah for the last several years, to keep in her freezer so she can pull one out when she has guests or just have something delicious when she doesn’t feel like cooking.
We always make two or three Quiche Lorraines and two or three mushroom and Swiss. And sometimes I’ll also do a big pot of one of her favorite soups, potato and leek, which I’ve been making since I learned to cook. My recipe, which I’d always thrown together from memory, was featured in Food and Wine magazine. It was nice to finally put it into recipe form.
So that’s what we’re going to do here.
I know I’m going to get dragged straight to hell by bakers out there for not making my own crust. But I’m not a baker, and my pie crusts have turned out well exactly once, when I was taking a pie class with the great cookbook author Cathy Barrow; I included her recipe in my book and I’m going to include it here for you. And by the way, she has new book coming out in March that I’m very excited about, Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish: A Whole Brunch of Recipes to Make at Home.
Also: you should use the best Swiss cheese you can find. In my hometown, that was a package of pre-sliced Tillamook, so I lined up the slices, sliced them into thin strips, and turned the thin strips into very tiny dice. It worked beautifully. We do what we can.
(For paid subscribers, we’ll also be bringing you our delicious Galax-style quiche Lorraine later this week.)
*RECIPE: The DOS’s Mushroom, Swiss Cheese, and Shallot Quiche
2/3 cup white wine
1 tablespoon butter
3-4 shallots, chopped
10 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
2-3 thyme branches
1 cup shredded or very finely diced Swiss cheese
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 nine-inch Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust (no need to pre-bake) or use Cathy Barrow’s Best Pie Crust (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 300°F (148°C).
In a saucepan, melt the butter in the wine over medium-high heat; add the shallots and thyme branches, lower heat to a simmer and cook until the shallots are very tender. Remove the thyme branches.
In a dry nonstick pan over medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms until they’ve just begun to brown and give off liquid. Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, then add the shallots and their liquid to the pan, reduce heat, and cook at a low simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, and nutmeg. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Line a pie plate or tart pan with the crust and place it on a tinfoil-lined baking sheet.
Spread the mushroom and shallot mixture over the crust in an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Pour the custard mixture over, being careful not to let any spill over the edges.
Carefully transfer to a rack positioned in the top quarter of the oven and bake for 40 minutes if using a tart pan, 50 minutes if using a pie plate, or until the center puffs up and the tart is golden brown. The filling may jiggle a bit at this point, and that’s fine. Let it jiggle. Let cool a bit before serving; you don’t want to eat it piping hot. It’s also delicious at room temperature.
*RECIPE: Cathy Barrow’s Best Pie Crust
Makes 1 crust
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, ice-cold and cut into cubes
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ice water
In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until it’s sandy and in pea-sized lumps. Add the water and pulse until the crust comes together in a ball. Form it into a dish and chill for 4 hours, or overnight (better).
If you don’t own a food processor, blend the butter and flour with your fingertips. (If your hands are naturally warm, cool them under the faucet before you start.) When the butter and flour are sandy and in pea-sized lumps, add the water and blend with your fingers until the dough comes together. Turn it out on a countertop and press the ball out with the heel of your hand, pushing away from you. Gather the dough, push away again, and gather. Form the dough into a disk, even if you think it’s not very homogenous. Chill for 4 hours, or overnight.
*RECIPE: Emily’s Potato and Leek Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, halves cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons (about 8 cups)
4 large celery stalks, chopped (about 2 cups), plus a nice handful of tender celery leaves for garnish
6 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)
7 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon jarred chicken stock base (such as Better Than Bouillon)
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg (or you can use jarred nutmeg)
Chopped celery leaves or chives for garnish
Melt butter with olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add celery; cook, stirring often, until tender and deeply saturated in color, about 8 minutes. Add potatoes; stir to coat potatoes in butter and oil. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring often, until potatoes are coated in a shiny, milky starch, about 5 minutes. Stir in 7 cups water and chicken stock base; bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are just tender and vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a ladle, remove 2 cups of cooking stock (liquid only), and reserve in a small bowl. Let remaining soup stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Stir milk, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into soup. Stir in reserved stock, a little at a time, to reach desired consistency. (If desired, use a potato masher to mash some of the soup. To serve pureed, pour soup and reserved 2 cups stock, in 2 batches, into a blender. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds per batch.) Divide soup evenly among 8 bowls, and garnish with celery leaves or chives.
BEFORE WE GO: Have you checked out Domenica Marchetti’s new newsletter?
I highly recommend it. Domenica—who is the author of seven Italian cookbooks, a culinary tour guide, and an Italian cooking teacher—was one of our early guests in the salad lab, and someone we admire for her wonderful depth of knowledge.
THAT’S IT! WE’RE DONE HERE! Later this week, paid subscribers should keep an eye peeled for one more delicious quiche (helloooo, Lorraine!) In the meantime, if you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, please do so with the buttons below. Thanks for reading.