QUICHE, flan, savoury custard tart, whatever you call them they are best best eaten just out the oven but still good as leftovers for week-day lunchboxes. The filling options are many, from bacon or ham, onion, mushroom and leek to roasted cherry tomatoes with basil and mozzarella.

I used to make them by the hundred, baking eight at a time, for catered events and also for sale through a fledgling home delivery service called Farm Direct in north London, and I had to keep coming up with new flavour combinations.

In the early summer months my favourite is asparagus – cramming in as much of this seasonal treat in as many ways as possible. We steam it, roast it, put it on the BBQ and even deep-fry in tempura batter. In a quiche the green stems match very well with the rich, eggy, cheesy custard. Green asparagus is the standard here in the UK, but in Europe it’s a thicker white asparagus that rules. Growing up in South Africa we only ever had tinned white asparagus and it was a special treat on the braai table (along with cold boiled eggs, baked beans and potato salad).

As ever, it’s possible to make small adjustments to ring the changes and keep your quiche audience happy. Add a pinch of cayenne, smoked paprika or half a cup of grated cheese to the pastry, for example.

We begin with a basic shortcrust pastry recipe and a custard filling. The ratio, for good measure, is 1 medium free-range egg for every 100ml of liquid. Therefore, if you have 600ml of liquid to fill a deep, fluted 23cm tart case, you will need 6 eggs. The same volume of mixture will fill a shallow 26cm tart case. With this recipe under your belt you can switch up the flavourings and make a different tart every time.

There are couple of insider tips that will elevate your quiche skills:

1. Prepare and blind bake the tart base the day before and pre-cook any filling ingredients that need cooking. It’s best if the base and filling are the same temperature as the custard but it also means no last-minute stress.

2. Whisk the custard mix very well – use a stick blender or a Magimix – and strain it into a jug through a sieve – this filters out any eggy threads (and any rogue eggshell)

3. Mix the flavouring (asparagus pulp, cooked cherry tomatoes, bacon, herbs etc) through the custard before spooning into the tart case. Coating the ingredients in the egg mix helps them to settle and you won’t get little air pockets in the filling.

4. Seasoning is very important, as the filling on its own can be bland, so be brave and dip a teaspoon in and taste it before filling (Lion-branded eggs are tested for salmonella so this is not dangerous, but will reward you with properly seasoned quiche!)

 

For the pastry

You will need a 23cm loose-bottomed fluted tart tin like this, baking parchment and ceramic baking beans or rice for blind baking, a rolling pin and baking sheet, mixing bowls and a whisk or blender

 

Ingredients

170g plain flour

85g unsalted butter – cut in cubes and frozen for 10 minutes

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 egg (this is optional, you can add a tablespoon of fridge-cold water instead)

 

Method

Place the flour and salt in a blender, add the frozen butter cubes and blitz to a fine crumb. With the motor running, add the egg or water and allow the pastry to come together in a ball. You may need a drop or two more water for the mix to combine.

If you have worked quickly and the pastry is still cold, roll it out immediately on a floured surface, to the size of the tart case. If the pastry is warm then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 10 minutes before rolling.

Carefully line the pastry case and patch any holes or cracks. You should have a small ball of pastry left over – this may be useful for patching later.

Use a fork a prick the tart base all over, then place it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Turn the oven on to 200C and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf.

Line the tart case with baking parchment and fill with beans or rice (this weighs down the pastry and stops any air pockets expanding).

Bake the  tart case for 10-12 minutes until the edges start to brown. It’s important for the sides to cook and set before removing the parchment and beans, as this forms the structural strength of the tart.

Remove the beans and parchment, turn the oven down to 170C and return the tart to the oven for a further 6-8 minutes to allow the base to finish baking – you should be able to see that it is baked all the way through, with a light, sandy texture. If not, give it a few more minutes in the oven.

At this stage check for flaws, cracks and crevices; now is the time to use leftover raw pastry to very gently and carefully patch and shore up any structural weaknesses.

Remove from the oven, leave in the tin and allow to cool. This can be done the day before.

 

For the filling

250ml whole milk

250ml double cream

5 medium free-range eggs

Fine sea salt and white pepper

200g bunch of asparagus

80g Parmesan cheese, grated

 

Method

Make the custard. In a bowl or blender, blitz or whisk up the milk, cream and eggs, add salt and pepper and test the seasoning with the tip of a teaspoon (don’t worry, you won’t come to any harm tasting raw egg, as they have been tested for salmonella and aren’t dangerous). Strain this mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl or jug.

Tail the asparagus (test the stem to see where it snaps and discard the lower bit), then cut off the tips and reserve. Put the stems in a blender and blitz to a pulp. Add this to the egg custard with some of the grated cheese. Pour the custard into the pastry case, decorate the top with asparagus spears and top with lots of grated Parmesan.

Bake the quiche at 170C for 30-45 minutes until it is golden brown on top and just set in the middle. It’s best not to overcook it as it will puff up and become watery. If your oven heat is uneven you may need to turn it round during cooking to get even colour.

 

Alternative fillings

Slow-roasted cherry tomatoes with red onion, mozzarella and basil Halve 100g of cherry tomatoes and slice 1 red onion, drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a low oven (130C) for 1-2 hours. You can also add pitted black olives to this one. Use cooking mozzarella (the block one used for pizzas), and add 80g of cubed mozzarella and some torn basil leaves to the filling.

Leek, Dijon and Gruyere Finely slice a leek and gently fry in butter until tender and transparent. Add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to the custard, grate 100g cheese and mix some into the filling and sprinkle the rest on top.

Spinach and feta I tend to use frozen spinach with this one, as it’s much less effort that washing bags and bags of spinach, blanching and refreshing and then squeezing out all the water (you will heaps of fresh leaves to get enough for one tart). Tip a whole bag of frozen spinach into a colander and leave it to defrost and drain over a bowl. Squeeze well to get rid of excess moisture. Cube the feta and add to the custard with the spinach.

Mushroom, chive and Parmesan – slice 200g chestnut mushrooms and fry in butter until they start to brown. Finely chop the chives and mix both into the custard when filling – cover the top with finely grated Parmesan before baking

Banana shallot, thyme and Parmesan Strip the thyme leaves from the stems and chop the leaves as finely as you can. Finely slice 300g shallots and fry gently in olive oil with the thyme until tender and starting to brown (or you can toss through with olive oil, place in a roasting tin, cover with baking parchment and roast slowly at 150C for an hour, stirring occasionally). Mix into the custard with some grated Parmesan and add more cheese on top (the shallots will be sweet so be sure to take that into account when seasoning).

Salmon and dill – cube 200g of skinless, pinboned salmon fillet and add to the filling with finely chopped dill and some lemon zest. Leave the cheese out of this one.

Kale, potato and cheddar Well-seasoned kale is delicious in a quiche, just blanche and refresh and chop finely before adding.  Par-boil 80g of new potatoes and slice them before adding.

All quiche needs is a lightly dressed baby leaf salad and a glass of chilled chablis for a very sophisticated and delicious picnic outdoors.