My childhood was littered with quiche. Mostly quiche lorraine, from Marks and Spencer, served with baked beans and chips. It was my mother’s ultimate comfort supper and I was, without fail, a little brat about it. I was adamant that I didn’t like quiche, despite demolishing it whenever it was put in front of me.
When I left home, aged 18, I did my best to ensure that quiche and I were never in the same room.
When Sam and I first got together, we were invited to a party by someone with whom we didn’t have many mutual friends. Sam was adamant that the way to survive the party was to go primed with a joke. Within seconds, on delivery of the punchline, we’d be the sweethearts of the party. I though this was both unlikely, and deeply weird, but also that he was a nice kind of weird, who liked the same books as me, really loved dogs, and could poach an egg. So I went along with it. The joke was chosen: we’d talk about party food (oh yes, there was a set up) and I’d say something about quiche, so that Sam could reply: ‘quiche? I love quiche! What can I say, I’m a big flan!’. We arrived at the party and ended up talking to a group of submariners. With a very heavy hand and the subtlety of a brick, I guided the conversation round to party food, ‘what abut quiche, though, huh?’ I asked, jovially. Silence. ‘That quiche though! What a party food!’ Nothing. ‘Gee whiz. QUICHE, am I right?’ Sam stared at me like he wished he’d never met me. The conversation (unbelievably, eventually) moved on, and I took Sam to one side. ‘What was that?’ I squawked. ‘What was what?’ ‘THAT!’ ‘I don’t know, you were being a bit weird about quiche’. It turns out, if you’re going to go to a party with a strategy which explicitly requires the two of you taking different roles in a weak joke format, try and make sure that your partner in crime is at least aware that you have embarked on the joke set up, and isn’t a complete idiot.
Anyway, in light of this formative experience in our relationship, it seemed appropriate then that the first time I made shortcrust pastry was for a quiche. I made it for others, still brattishly adamant that I didn’t like quiche, making faces a recalcitrant toddler would be proud of throughout.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, because quiche is, after all, savoury custard, cheese, and pastry, a small nibble transformed me. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough of quiche: I made it with salmon, and tuna, and bacon, and onion, and every cheese I could lay my hands on. But this one is probably my favourite. Leeks sweated in butter until soft, with tiny ribbons of shallot alongside them; the oldest and crumbliest goat’s cheese, with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan, cutting through the creamy custard with sharpness.
Shortcrust pastry, like most things, is a matter of confidence, and self-belief. There are about five stages where it can feel like it’s all gone wrong. Listen to me: it almost certainly hasn’t. If the dough seems too crumbly, wrap it really tightly in the clingfilm, and let it rest. If it won’t come together at all, add water – slowly, carefully drop by drop – and it will form a coherent dough. If it tears as you roll it, patch it up with excess pastry; no one will see or know once it’s filled with custard and cheese. If you’re particularly clumsy or nervy, you can carefully pour the last of the liquid into the tin when you’ve already lowered the tray into the oven, to minimise spillage. Spilling filling isn’t the end of the world either, it happens to me almost every time: just be careful to ease the cooked case out at the end, so that the pastry doesn’t crumble away. It will be ok.
This is such a lovely quiche: and combines my two favourite things in a dish: being simultaneously quite elegant, and really very cheesy. It has the shortest of pastry, but still slices nicely into portions. It is equally good hot or cold or, as I discovered, baked into 72 miniature tartlet cases for a rainy garden party in Temple.
It goes like this:
Leek and Goat’s Cheese Tart
Makes: 1 large quiche (comfortably serves 4 hungry people)
Takes: 1 hour 20, including chilling
Bakes: 40 minutes
For the pastry:
Pinch of salt
1 ice cube, taken out just before you start the process
1 egg yolk
For the filling:
100g Hard goat’s cheese
40g parmesan cheese
3 large eggs, beaten
1.First, make the pastry. You can do this in a food processor, if you have one: just pulse the butter, flour and a pinch of salt together a couple of times, until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and an ice cube’s worth of very cold water, and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. You can do exactly the same with your hands and a mixing bowl. Either way, mix as little as possible. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
2. As you take the pastry out of the fridge, preheat the oven to 180C. On a generously floured surface, roll the pastry into a circle about the thickness of a pound coin. It should be about two inches bigger than the circumference of your tin. Drape the pastry over the tin and, taking a little ball of the excess pastry, gently ease it into every nook and cranny until it lies flush against the tin.
3. Gently roll the rolling pin over the top of the tin, so that the excess pastry falls away. Prick all over the pastry with a fork. Spread a sheet of baking paper over the pastry, and weigh it down with baking beans or dried rice. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven, remove the baking beans and paper and return to the oven. If you have a teaspoon of egg yolk leftover, you can paint it over the pastry just before you return it to the oven, but don’t worry if not. Bake it for 5-10 minutes until it is lightly golden.
4. Meanwhile, slice the leeks and shallots finely into thin ribbons, and fry them gently in the butter in a shallow pan until soft.
5. Beat the eggs into the milk until incorporated, and then stir in the parmesan and salt.
6. Place the pastry in its tin onto a baking sheet. Spread out the leek and shallot mixture across the pastry, and crumble the goat’s cheese over the top. Pour the liquid over the mixture leaving about half a centimetre of pastry at the top.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the tart is golden and taut. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.
6. Ta Dah!
The Icing on the Cake
We ate this with really good tomatoes, sliced into rounds and laid in overlapping circles, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with salt. Cold leftovers, sliced and boxed the next day, make a pretty enviable office lunch.