Eggs Benedict Florentine. Crepes Florentine. Chicken Breast Florentine. Thanks to Catherine de Medici's obsession with spinach, we can designate any dish containing the green stuff "Florentine." That includes spinach quiche. "Food Guy" Greg Patent's got the recipe:
On a recent Saturday, I bought some terrific, locally-grown spinach, shallots and eggs. Later that day, I found pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) cream from the Kalispell Kreamery. So that sealed the deal: I’d make spinach quiche.
Before Julia Child came along in the early 1960s, I didn’t know a quiche from a calzone. A quiche is just a French tart made with a custard base containing any number of other ingredients. The classic Quiche Lorraine, for example, has bacon (but no cheese); other quiches may contain cheese, onions, mushrooms, spinach, eggplant. You name it.
The hallmark of a quiche is its crisp pastry. To achieve that, the pastry is partially baked and then filled just before its final baking. The preferred way of baking the crust is shaping it in a flan ring – a metal hoop. That way, the pastry bottom bakes in direct contact with the baking pan, assuring it will be crisp. Another way is to bake the crust in a tart pan with a removable bottom. In both methods the sides of the quiche are straight, not flared. If you like baking quiches and tarts, I recommend seeking flan rings in gourmet supply stores or online.
The filling for a quiche is not thick and dense. It is relatively thin (about 3/4-inch) and creamy. Heavy cream gives quiche its special texture. You can, if you wish, substitute half-and-half or whole milk, but I wouldn’t bother with any form of low-fat milk.
You can make the pastry and cook the spinach a day ahead. Then on baking day, partially bake the crust, make the custard and you’re good to go. Bon appetit!
If you’re pressed for time, you can make the pastry and cook the spinach a day ahead. I use regular leaf spinach, not baby spinach, because leaf spinach has a sturdier texture. Baby spinach, when cooked, often turns mushy.
For the pastry
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) chilled vegetable shortening
5 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
For the spinach filling
1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach (not baby spinach), tough stems removed. Trimmed weight about 1 pound.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg (small pinch)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded Swiss cheese (Gruyere)
1 to 2 tablespoons softened butter
Make the pastry. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces and toss with the flour. Use a pastry blender to cut the fats into the flour until texture resembles coarse meal. Combine the ice water and cider vinegar. Sprinkle gradually over the dry ingredients as you toss with a fork. Keep tossing and stirring just until the dough gathers into a mass. Press the dough together and shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer. (Dough may be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated.)
Shape and bake the pastry. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13- to 14-inch circle. Use a 9-inch flan ring (a metal hoop 1-inch high) set on a lightly buttered baking sheet or a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Center the dough over the ring or pan. Lift the edges of the dough and push the dough down onto the sides of the ring or pan making the sides of the pastry a bit thicker than the bottom. Cut away excess pastry. Push sides of dough up all around so that it extends about 1/8-inch above the rim of the pan or ring. Refrigerate to firm the dough, about 30 minutes.
There’s one other way to shape the pastry, and that’s on the underside of a 9-inch layer cake pan. Lightly butter the outside of the pan and drape the rolled dough onto the pan. Press the sides of the dough to stick to the side of the pan and trim away excess dough, making a shell about 1-inch tall. Prick the shell all over with a fork and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes or longer.
Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the dough in the flan ring or tart pan is chilled, line it with a sheet of foil, pressing foil into the corners and onto the sides, and fill the foil-lined pastry with dried beans. Bake the pastry until you see the edges of the dough begin to color lightly, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, carefully lift off the foil and beans, and prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Return pastry to the oven and bake a few minutes more just until the dough has completely set, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
If baking an upside-down crust, set the pan crust side up on the oven rack and bake until the pastry is lightly colored all over, 15 to 20 minutes. Check frequently to see if the crust puffs up and re-prick with a fork as necessary. Cool completely before lifting off the crust. Set it upright on a baking sheet.
Partially baking the crust will assure that it stays crisp during its final stint in the oven.
For the spinach, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the trimmed spinach, bring the water back to a boil, and cook, uncovered, until the spinach is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain in a colander. Fill the cooking pot with cold water and dump in the spinach. Swish around a few times until spinach is cool and drain again in the colander. Squeeze spinach to remove as much water as possible. From 1 pound of raw, trimmed spinach, I usually wind up with about 7 ounces of cooked, squeezed, spinach. Chop the spinach medium-fine.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter is bubbly, add the shallot and stir and cook about 30 seconds. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes to drive off excess moisture. Remove pan from the heat and season spinach with salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg. Set aside to cool. (May be made a day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
When ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Beat the eggs in a medium bowl just to thoroughly combine the whites with the yolks. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Stir in the cream and the cooled spinach. Pour into the partially baked crust, sprinkle with the cheese and dot with the butter.
Bake about 30 minutes, until the quiche is puffed and browned and the filling is set. Cool about 5 minutes (quiche settles as it cools), and serve.
• Makes 4 to 6 servings.