OccasionThe first picnic of the year on a cool and cloudy early spring day.
MenuHomemade pain de mie Morel & Gruyère Tart Mead, Honey Wine
Color StoryQuiche 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 TartBlind 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.
Genus Morchella, Season Spring
This elusive mushroom is found in diverse habitats:
woodlands, especially those affected by forest fire
urban ares: hiding in plain sight along sidewalks, haunting abandoned railroads.
Morels appear after a spring rain, and disappear just as suddenly- a major frustration for mushroom hunters who say luck has a lot to do with finding morels.
smoky, nutty, earthy
According to The Complete Book of Mushrooms, by Peter Jordan and Steven Wheeler, “…Morels have a rich flavor that combines well with other rich ingredients such as eggs, cream, and Madeira.”
Butter & Cream
The rich, earthy flavor of morels is best suited to cooking in butter or cream, rather than olive oil. However, I recommend a peppery extra virgin olive oil drizzled over morel soup or pasta just before serving.. READ MORE...
hot water from the kettle
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, sliced into cute little discs
1/2 cup baby peas, frozen is fine just take the chill off before adding them to the soup
2 quarts homemade chicken stock **
3/4 cup ditaloni pasta **
1/2 bunch watercress, just the tender little leaves
Now that you and the morel have been introduced, it’s time to get to know one another. Out in the world you will find many recipes for fresh morels, which I think is funny because most of us regular people do not have access to fresh morels. We do have access to dried morels, though. I believe dried morels can be used in any recipe calling for fresh, you just have to get the dried mushroom re-hydrated and ready to rock and roll.
Follow the instructions on the package for re-hydrating dried morels. This means pouring a bit of hot water from the kettle over the mushrooms and allowing them to sit and plump up for a few minutes. Both the mushrooms and their soaking liquid can be added to a dish for flavor – just strain the liquid of any grit first. Morels are very delicate. Be gentle with them, and use them to finish a dish by raising the level of presentation with their unique texture and smoky, nutty flavor.. READ MORE...
This is a tough time of year. The calendar says spring, but I’m still waiting for veggies to pop their little green heads out of the soil. March is historically Colorado’s snowiest month, there will still be frosts in April and the farmers markets won’t really get going until May. I’ve got spring fever so bad – I’m sick of “hearty winter comfort food”. My body is craving fresh salad, ripe fruit, hand-picked herbs…
Magazine covers are still featuring soups and stews and cozy fires. I don’t have a cure for spring fever (other than spring) but I do have a way to treat the symptoms. Get through by cooking creatively with what’s in the pantry right now. The ingredient of the week is dried mushrooms – specifically morels.
Morels are in season during springtime, though not exactly growing in everyone’s backyard. However, dried morels are pretty easy for anyone to find. Chances are your local spice shop or cheese shop carries them. If not, dried morels are readily available through online merchants. These dried mushrooms may seem pricey, but a little goes a long way. Their intricately honeycombed texture combined with colors of gray and brown make a striking visual impact displayed in a glass jar on the counter. I also find it interesting that morels are often described as having a smoky taste. Spring morels are found in areas affected by forest fires in the previous year. Coincidence or terroir?. READ MORE...
Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more