Spring produce has officially landed in central PA! Which means that I am really excited…theoretically. I am someone who likes to pretend that I am really into the green stuff, but I would really rather have a candy bar and a bag of chips. This is almost always what happens: I buy all of the fresh new produce with romantic intentions of healthy dishes in my future, I put it in my fridge or pantry, and then it sits there and goes rotten. So as I embark on my journey to become a real adult, I intend to change that one veggie at a time.
The most successful approach so far has been combining things that I absolutely love with said produce. And I can honestly say that I have conquered asparagus with this recipe. Cheese, eggs, cream, pancetta, and of course peas (would it really be a spring recipe without peas?!) marry in this quiche to create a soft pillow carrying asparagus right to your mouth. I don’t even miss the chocolate…much. Which is a big deal because I have a love/hate relationship with asparagus. My family had an asparagus patch in our garden when I was growing up, and my parents constantly tried to get my brother and I to eat it. I guess you could say not much has changed because the only way I would put that stuff near my mouth was if it was drowned in cheese…which is pretty much what I did here. So yay for me!
I’m sure you’ve all been privy to quiche at some point. Maybe it was a special menu item at your favorite brunch spot. Or a crappy dried out convenience store attempt at elegance. Either way it seems like an elusive food that you have to purchase. But guess what? It’s not that difficult to make! It’s basically a crust with a custardy filling. The filling is made of a bunch of heavy cream and eggs. Think of it like super creamy, dreamy scrambled eggs. But way better.
The filling is so special to the quiche because of its unique texture. When you think of other baked eggs like a strata, this texture kicks its butt. Instead of having a mostly egg filling with a bit of milk to soften the consistency, a quiche is mostly cream with a few eggs to create structure. The protein in the eggs is just enough to suspend the veggies in the filling in the cream and solidify everything, but not enough to cause any real hardening. Remember what happens when proteins are heated? They denature—basically unfold and refold with other nearby proteins. When there are a lot of proteins, this can push water out of the structure. Here, there aren’t enough proteins to do that, so you get the benefit of structure while keeping optimal texture. I like to think of it like the egg proteins make up a spider web of load-bearing walls, and the cream flows in and fills all of the spaces in. And voila! Perfect quiche filling.
Spring Asparagus Pancetta Quiche
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
¼ cup cold water
A pinch Kosher salt
A medium bunch of asparagus stalks (about 10-12 stalks) thinner stalks work best here
1/3 cup peas
3 ounces pancetta
1 clove garlic
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup crumbled feta
1. First, make the crust. Cut the chilled butter into the flour until coarse. Add the salt and egg yolk. Mix to combine. Slowly add the water until it just comes together. Don’t add more water than you need to. The dough is ready when it mostly sticks together but there are still sandy bits. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
2. While the dough is chilling, prep your veggies. Put a medium saucepan filled about 2/3 with water on medium heat. Take each asparagus stalk and bend gently from the bottom until the stalk snaps easily. This will get rid of the woody bits of your asparagus. Measure your peas (fresh or frozen) and keep them nearby.
3. When your water is boiling, drop the asparagus in the water and cover with a lid to steam. If you have a steam basket, feel free to use it! Steam until al dente, or around four minutes depending on the thickness of your stalks. If you are using fresh peas, drop them in at the same time as the asparagus. If frozen is your style, drop those one minute before the asparagus is done.
4. While your veggies are steaming, get a large bowl half full with ice water. When the veggies are done, take the asparagus and peas out and place in the ice water to stop the cooking process.
5. When the dough is chilled, preheat the oven to 350⁰F and prep a 10 inch tart tin. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to flatten into a larger disk and press into the tart tin. With your fingers or the back of a large spoon, press the dough up into the sides of the tin and ensure that the bottom is even. Prick the dough with a fork all over. Put a piece of parchment into the tart cavity and fill with beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Take the parchment and weights out and bake for an additional five minutes, or until slightly browned. Keep the oven on after removing the tart crust.
5. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat with a small splash of olive oil if desired. When hot, put the pancetta in the pan. While cooking, chop the garlic and add to the pancetta. Stir and continue to heat until cooked through and slightly browned. While cooking, slice the asparagus into pieces (about 1 inch) on the diagonal. Keep the tops intact. When the pancetta and garlic is finished cooking, dump onto a paper towel to blot the grease.
6. In a large bowl, combine the eggs and cream and beat until smooth. Add the cheese, peas, pancetta and garlic and mix to combine. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
7. Fill the tart cavity with the asparagus pieces and pour the filing on top. Place on top of a baking pan and bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until set but still slightly jiggly.
8. Let cool briefly, and cut into six pieces. Enjoy!