There are days when all you really want to eat is something soft and comforting, food that is both satisfying and far from fussy. For some, it's an overstuffed burrito or chicken pot pie, perhaps a slice of cake thick with frosting.
Usually, I prefer my comfort in the form of something savory and well-earned, like a homemade tart: buttery flakes of crust oozing with a rich cheese base and balanced out with bright green herbs and vegetables.
And so I turn to quiche — a classic French savory open-faced pie — every few months and sometimes more, depending on what I happen to have on hand. It's a great way to make use of leftover vegetables and herbs, meat, fish and forgotten pieces of cheese. Delicious warm from the oven, at room temperature or even cold, a slice makes a satisfying and portable snack, or a meal paired with a salad.
But making quiche isn't just economics for me; baking a savory tart is both satisfying for the cook — a slow, steady puttering in the kitchen — as well as the eater who is rewarded with a buttery, flaky crust that promises to have and to hold a savory, custardy filling.
Homemade buttery crust is easy enough to make. But, if you're feeling not so handy in the kitchen, use your favorite ready-made option. As for the filling, I alternate between smoked salmon and herbs, leek and ham or vegetables and cheese. You can modify to your tastes. Just keep in mind to dry your cooked vegetables of any excess liquid (wring out in a paper towel, for example) before adding it to the quiche.
Luckily, I was recently on the receiving end of some brilliantly smoked Alaska salmon. My friend Sue — probably like most Alaskans — labors over her summer catch, perfecting marinades, glazes and smoking temperatures. Sue's recipe is outstanding, with hints of soy sauce and honey, balsamic vinegar, mustard and more. As much as I love to eat good smoked salmon plain and simple, I also like to toss it into a quiche to add some oomph. This time of year, a generous grating of citrus zest — both the scent as you're grating and the flavor — will brighten up these winter days.
Don't forget the quiver. You want just enough eggs (combined with milk and cream) to keep all the filling together and to create a luscious, custard-like texture. Of course, if for some reason you want to abandon the crust, you could make yours crustless; just be sure to lightly grease your pan or pie plate before pouring in the filling.
Kim Sunée is the best-selling author of "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home" and "A Mouthful of Stars." She worked as a food editor for Time Inc. and has appeared several times as a guest judge on "Iron Chef America." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com or instagram.com/kimsunee.
Smoked salmon quiche
Keep in mind that you can change this to suit your tastes. Try adding a fresh grating of nutmeg or a pinch of cayenne pepper. Don't like Comté cheese? Try Jarlsberg or Gruyère. Sub out zucchini for green beans or spinach or mushrooms.
Makes 1 9-inch quiche
1 (9-inch) pie crust (recipe follows) or your favorite store-bought crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced leek
¼ teaspoons salt (omit depending on saltiness of the salmon)
¼ teaspoon ground white or black pepper
4 ounces grated Parmesan or Comté cheese or 2 ounces Parmesan/Comté plus 2 ounces crumbled feta or goat cheese, divided
5 to 6 ounces smoked salmon, with pinbones removed and torn into pieces (or other cooked fish or meat)
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Frank's
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill, parsley or basil
Grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round. Place dough in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold the overhang under and crimp edges, using fingers or pressing down with the tines of a fork. Pierce the bottom of the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough and fill with pie weights or dried beans or uncooked rice. Bake 25 minutes. Remove parchment and weights.
2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add leek and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper. Remove vegetables to a paper towel and twist paper to squeeze out any excess liquid; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, hot sauce, herbs and lemon zest, if using; set aside. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons grated Comté or Parmesan evenly across bottom of prepared crust. Top with smoked salmon and zucchini-leek mixture. Pour egg-milk mixture over the top. Top with remaining cheese. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until puffy, golden and the center of quiche is just set but a tiny bit jiggly. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Flaky butter crust
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 tablespoons ice cold water
1. Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times just to blend. Add butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and pulse until mixture is moist but not too wet and sticky. Add more water, just 1 teaspoon at a time and pulse just until the dough starts to form a ball. Remove dough and shape into a ball; place onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press down into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator at least 20 minutes (and up to 24 hours).