Few appetizers can compete for sheer eating pleasure with the savory tart. The prototype of this pastry, quiche Lorraine, came from the region of that name in eastern France. It is topped with bacon, onions and a custard of cream, eggs and egg yolks. My personal favorite quiches, however, highlight vegetables.
I love spinach quiche, with a creamy, nutmeg-scented filling of a pastel green hue.
Leeks, cauliflower and asparagus all make tasty quiches, especially when accented with a little Gruyere or Parmesan cheese. I've even used cabbage in a quiche, flavored with caraway seeds, and my family enjoyed the result.
The quiche formula has long been a part of international cuisine.
Indeed, for a while these savory tarts were so common that they turned into a clich , spotlighted by the publication of the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. But there's a reason for their popularity. When they are well made and freshly baked, they have a universal appeal.
Using the classic quiche as a starting point, chefs have come up with numerous tempting versions. At Androuet, the celebrated Parisian cheese shop and restaurant specializing in cheese dishes, I discovered a Roquefort-flavored onion quiche. I was so impressed with it that I went right to work to formulate a similar quiche for La Varenne Cooking School, where I was in charge of the development of new recipes.
Some chefs make parve quiches. California chef Anne Gentry, owner of a vegetarian restaurant called Real Food Daily, bakes tofu quiche with leeks and asparagus. My friend Patricia Greenberg, author of The Whole Soy Cookbook, makes a spinach and soy "ham" quiche with soy mozzarella cheese and uses soft tofu to replace the eggs.
For my taste, mushroom tart may be the most delicious vegetable tart of all. Instead of making a quiche-type filling, I simmer the mushrooms in a cream sauce, which becomes suffused with the mushrooms' flavor. This type of tart needs fewer eggs than a quiche because the sauce thickens the filling and holds it together. To make it parve, you can use soy milk or rice milk in the cream sauce and replace the butter with margarine.
MUSHROOM TART WITH CHIVES
Makes 6 servings
4 French Pie Dough (see below)
4 30 gr. butter
4 1 onion, finely chopped
4 225 gr. mushrooms, finely chopped
4 2 Tbsp. flour
4 1 cup heavy cream
4 1â„4 cup milk
4 Salt and freshly ground pepper freshly grated nutmeg
4 3 egg yolks, or 1 whole egg and 1 yolk
4 2 Tbsp. thinly sliced chives
4 1 large egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)
Prepare dough and refrigerate. To make filling, melt butter in a deep skillet, add onion and saute over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add mushrooms, increase heat to high, and cook, stirring often, until liquid has evaporated.
Remove mushroom mixture from heat, sprinkle in flour, and stir well.
Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in cream and milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool.
When filling is lukewarm, stir in egg yolks and chives. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg, if needed. Let cool completely.
Butter a 20-cm. round fluted tart pan with a removable rim.
Let dough soften 1 minute before rolling it. Roll about two thirds of dough on a lightly floured surface to a round about 3 mm. thick and about 25 cm. in diameter. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll it over tart pan. Gently ease dough into pan. Using your thumb, gently push dough down slightly at top edge of pan, making top edge of dough thicker than remaining dough. Roll rolling pin across pan to cut off excess dough.
With your finger and thumb, press dough gently against pan so that it rises 6 mm. above the pan's rim.
Prick bottom of shell lightly with a fork. Refrigerate shell for 30 minutes. Roll remaining dough to a thin sheet and cut in strips about 1 cm. wide and 21 cm. long. Refrigerate strips side by side on a lightly floured plate. If they become stiff, let them soften about 5 minutes at room temperature before using them.
Put a baking sheet in lower third of oven and preheat to 220 C.
Spoon cool filling into tart shell. Brush rim of shell lightly with egg glaze. Arrange 4 pastry strips parallel to each other at equal intervals above filling. Press to stick ends of each strip to glazed rim. Arrange 4 more parallel strips crossing first group of strips in a diamond pattern.
Stick these strips to rim. Remove excess dough by pressing edges of strips against rim of pan.
Set tart carefully on hot baking sheet and bake it for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 C and bake tart for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until pastry browns and filling sets. Transfer tart to a rack and let it cool for 10 minutes. Set tart on an upside-down flat-bottomed bowl and remove tart pan rim. (The tart can be kept, covered, 1 day in refrigerator; warm it before serving in a 150 C oven.) Serve it hot, warm, or at room temperature.
FRENCH PIE DOUGH
4 11â„2 cups all-purpose flour
4 3/8 tsp. salt
4 110 gr. cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
4 2 large egg yolks or 1 egg
4 about 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. ice water
In a large bowl combine flour and salt and blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. ice water and toss mixture until liquid is incorporated, adding more ice water if necessary to form dough into a ball. Knead dough lightly with the heel of your hand against a smooth surface for a few seconds to distribute the fat evenly. Re-form it into a ball. Refrigerate dough, wrapped in wax paper, for 1 hour. (Dough can be kept, covered, 2 days in refrigerator.) Makes enough for a 20-cm. tart with lattice topping.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Vegetable Creations.