By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
How do you get kids to eat spinach? Make quiche!
Even I was surprised by how eagerly kids took to quiche when it was filled with spinach and mushrooms. Well, not every kid was overjoyed about the mushrooms. Or the spinach. Still, this quiche was a huge hit in our baking classes this week, leaving me to wonder why, in all the years I've been teaching food appreciation at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia, quiche had never made it onto the menu before.
It's a great project for the kids, loaded with all kinds of kitchen skills to learn.
First, the crust. No store-bought crust for us. The trick to a flaky, delicious, made-from scratch pie crust is to keep the ingredients--especially the butter--very cold and add only enough water to get the flour to bind together. You don't want to add too much liquid, or work the dough at all. And ideally you'll want to start on this a day ahead, or at least several hours.
To make one 9-inch quiche, whisk together in a large mixing bowl 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Add to that 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter cut into pieces. Using a pastry cutter or two knives (most people would do this pulsing in a food processor), cut the butter into the flour until the mix is granular, with a few pea-size pieces. The butter should be thoroughly incorporated into the flour, but you don't want to work it too much. In fact, when you roll the dough out later, you will see flecks of butter in the flour.
To this mix add 1 or 2 tablespoons ice water. That's right, we're dealing with tablespoons of water. Use a spatula to turn and press the flour to incorporate the water. Continue adding water a tablespoon at a time until a dough begins to form. It won't look like a dough yet, but you should be able to gather it with your hands and press it together. When it just holds together, you can stop adding water. Pour the dough onto a floured work surface, press it into a disk about 3/4-inch thick and wrap in plastic. Store the dough in the refrigerator several hours or overnight.
Pre-bake your crust by again turning the dough onto a floured work surface and rolling it out into a circle large enough to overlap the edges of a 9-inch pie plate. Now, wrap the dough around your rolling pin--dusted with flour--lift and transfer the dough to the pie plate. Press the dough into the bottom edge of the pan. Use a sharp knife to trim away the excess dough from the edges and crimp the edge with your fingers to make a decorative presentation. (We then lined the inside of the dough with aluminum foil and filled the bottom with ceramic pie weights--little marbles that hold the crust's shape while it's in the oven. Skip this if you don't have the pie weights.)
Bake the dough in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until it is fairly firm to the touch and beginning to lightly brown. Remove and set on a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, for the custard, mix together in a large bowl 2 large eggs plus two yolks. (The kids always have a blast with this. We separate the eggs by cracking them into their cupped hands.) Add 1 cup milk, 1 cup heavy cream. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper and a generous pinch nutmeg.
Use about 2 ounces each chopped frozen spinach (wrung dry), chopped mushrooms and grated Gruyere cheese. The original recipe I used as a guide for this called for a ridiculous amount of these ingredients. We just eyeballed it, adding only enough to make their presence known in the finished pie. Add too much, and you won't have room for the egg custard, which binds everything together. As it was, we had some of the egg mix left over.
Place the crust with the filling on a sheet pan and place this on the middle rack of the oven heated to 375 degrees. Only now do you pour the egg mix into the pie shell. You don't want to be to carrying a shell filled to the brim with egg liquid across the kitchen after all.
Bake for 38 minutes, or until the quiche is firm to the touch and cooked through. Allow to cool for a while--but do try serving it warm. It makes such an impression, fresh from the oven. Serve with your favorite salad, breakfast, lunch or dinner.