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The first picnic of the year on a cool and cloudy early spring day.


Homemade pain de mie
Morel & Gruyère Tart
Mead, Honey Wine

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Quiche is the intuitive cook’s secret weapon. It’s perfect for cooking in the moment, as you need very few ingredients that are probably in your pantry right now. The only ingredients required are all-purpose flour, unsalted butter, and eggs for the pastry crust and eggs, cream, and any flavors you want for the custard filling. I keep a disc of tart dough in my freezer for when the urge to make quiche hits me.
Once you have quiche in your repertoire, let the seasons be your guide. For a spring quiche I used morels and gruyère. In summer you could use tomatoes and zucchini. In The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics, there is a recipe for “Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Quiche” that would be lovely in autumn.  During winter you could serve a quiche made with bitter endive and cheese or bacon flavored Quiche Lorraine. Basically, if you have a recipe for the custard, you can add any flavorings you want- experiment!

No special equipment is needed to make quiche. Sure, every recipe starts out “process the ingredients in a food processor until combined.” I must tell you that I hate food processors. I know they are considered a must have in every kitchen, but I make it just fine without one. Food processors are big and bulky. Their many attachments and discs clog up my kitchen drawers. I find the bowls and tubes cumbersome to clean. Instead I use a good old fashioned pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. It’s important to make sure both the ingredients and the pastry blender are cold, so that you don’t melt the butter. A flaky pastry crust is achieved by quickly working ice cold butter into the flour and not overworking the dough. Also, I have yet to purchase a tart pan with a removable bottom. I use my (well-buttered) 10 inch porcelain quiche dish and have no problems with the quiche sticking to the pan. Cooking in the moment is about working with what you have. Think it through and adapt. Not so long ago people had to do things by hand.

A recipe for “Dried Porcini and Gruyère Tarts” from Preserved, by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton inspired this early spring picnic. If I had a smoker I would do as they suggest and hot smoke the tart for an hour- think of the flavor! I decided to use the tart dough from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The New Classics because I can’t seem to just be simple and follow one recipe for one dish. Here is how I made my version:

Morel & Gruyère Tart

Blind bake the Martha Stewart tart dough. This is done by first pressing the dough into your quiche pan, pricking it all over with a fork, and freezing it until firm (about 30 minutes). Then line the tart shell in parchment and fill with dried beans to weigh it down. Bake the tart dough at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until the crust is firm at the edges. Take out the parchment and beans and bake the crust until it is pale golden brown, about 10 minutes. Allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before pouring in the custard filling.

For the filling I re-hydrated a small handful of dried morels in hot water. As the morels were soaking I sautéed 2 shallots and 2 garlic cloves in a generous amount of butter. Then the drained morels were added to the pan with some dried thyme. After a couple of minutes I poured a bit of the morel soaking liquid (carefully drained of grit) onto the morel mixture and simmered it until all the liquid was gone. While the mixture was left to cool I whisked together the filling: ½ cup crème fraîche, 5 eggs, 1 cup grated gruyere, salt, pepper, and some freshly grated nutmeg. This filling was poured into my pre-baked tart shell and cooked in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven until the custard set (about 30 minutes).
The result: flaky pastry, rich custard, earthy morels, and pungent cheese. For the picnic I brought homemade bread and a bottle of Mead, honey wine. The air smelled of earth and rain and even though it was a dreary day, I could feel spring coming ever closer.