On Saturday, I went for a long walk around Liverpool city centre and gloried in the fact that spring is finally here. The sun was shining, I had my sunglasses on and – for the first time in months – I didn’t feel as though I was trapped in the depths of some hideous endless winter. I’ve lived in the North West of England long enough to know that this could all change by tomorrow, but for the moment, I’m revelling in the return of short sleeves and balmy afternoons.
Another place which is happy to see the return of spring is my kitchen. After months of opening my veg box to discover piles of root vegetables (I’m still ploughing my way through all the beetroot, carrots and parsnips), I was overjoyed to see asparagus in last week’s Abel and Cole delivery. English asparagus season is short, so I love to eat as much of it as I can while it’s here. I wanted to do something a bit more exciting than merely grilling it and serving it with hollandaise when the idea hit me to pop it into a quiche.
This quiche is inspired by two excellent female food writers, Ruth Reichl and Delia Smith. I’m currently cooking my way through Reichl’s My Kitchen Year which discusses how she used cooking as a means of coping with the grief she experienced when Gourmet – the magazine she edited for a decade – suddenly folded. Reichl’s writing can be a bit flowery at times, but she has a wonderful recipe for a basic quiche (‘a custard in a crust’ she calls it) which has been rattling around my head ever since I read it. Delia Smith is (arguably) the queen of custards and crusts, and it would be remiss of me not to credit her for some of the methodology behind this one.
A mere hour’s work in the kitchen will reward you with crisp asparagus, salty pops of feta and a gloriously wobbly, savoury custard. This quiche was made for picnics, parties and long lazy lunches in the sunshine. When was the last time you said that about a Pret sandwich?
ASPARAGUS AND FETA QUICHE (Serves 4 – 6 people)
You will need:
For the crust
- 280g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 150g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- Handful of grated cheddar cheese (optional)
- A pinch of salt
- Ice water
For the filling
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 40g feta cheese, diced into cubes
- 1 tsp grated parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs, beaten well
- 284ml single cream
- A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper to season
- Start by making the crust. Rub the flour and butter together until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the cheese, salt and ice water – a tablespoon at a time – until the dough comes together. It should be smooth yet tacky to the touch. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
- When you’re ready to make the quiche, roll the dough out until it’s about the thickness of a 2p coin. Use your rolling pin to lift it up and drape it over a tart case. You want the dough to hang over the sides as it will shrink when you’re baking it. Prick the base of the dough with a fork, cover it with baking paper and fill it with baking weights. (You can get these from Lakeland, or alternatively, just use some dried beans.) Bake on 150 degrees c for 20 minutes. Take it out, remove the weights and paint the crust with a bit of beaten egg. (You can use some of the egg you’re using for the filling.) Let it cook in the oven for another five minutes.
- Make your filling. Snap the asparagus spears in two and remove the woody ends. Blanch them for two minutes in boiling water. You want them to be barely cooked and have plenty of snap. Arrange them and the feta cheese at the bottom of the pastry case.
- Beat the eggs and cream together and season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the asparagus and feta. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top.
- Bake at 200 degrees c for 30 minutes until the pastry is puffy and the filling is barely set and golden. Allow to cool and serve. This keeps well for 2 – 3 days and goes really well with a crisp green salad.