9 am Sunday: cream and creamier
Though there would be no obscene sugar consumption on this occasion, Rebecca’s invitation still came with a warning: “the fat, the sacred fat, will be more extreme than ever. And did I mention salt? The fat and the salt. . . . I suggest not eating from Friday on.” But as I’ve been known to do from time to time, I shrugged off her suggestion as simple hyperbole. It takes more than mere words to keep a fork out of my mouth, and anyway, I have a strict chocolate quota to fulfill. But I was sorely mistaken. It’s downright dangerous to be flippant about anything that involves this much cream.
I arrived at nine in an unusually trashy-tiny vintage Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups t-shirt, planning to carelessly consume vast quantities of fat and salt and hoping to have nothing to show for it. Rebecca had already taken up her usual position on the couch and was sipping her tall glass of morning iced tea through a straw, while Jimmy presided over the stove with his usual effortless grace, tending a large skillet full of new potatoes, onions, bell peppers, and of course, butter.
He had slipped the quiches—each individually portioned and breathtakingly beautiful—into the oven shortly before my arrival, and the air in the kitchen was almost palpably thick, heady and rich with butter and cheese. The quiches, Jimmy explained, had been layered with cheese and spiral-cut ham, over which he poured a custard of cream (milk being far too moderate) and eggs, topping each with delicate spears of pencil-thin asparagus. I kneeled to peer at them through the oven window and watched as they began to bronze and puff like miniature soufflés.
When I sat down with my plate, I suddenly began to regret my choice of clothing. There would be nowhere to hide the evidence.
This was no typical quiche, and a far cry from the prissy pastry so common of the genre. Whoever said that real men don’t eat quiche has obviously never had breakfast at Jimmy’s. This was serious sustenance: though deceptively dainty, the quiche was bold and lusty. Eggy, creamy, and yet somehow surreally light—in the way that whipped cream feels "light" on the tongue—its intense richness was barely balanced by the saltiness of ham and the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus. As a rule, I love to clean my plate, and this was no exception. It took stamina, however—not to mention willful denial of the fat-induced hot flashes I was suddenly experiencing. Upon scraping up the last heartbreakingly flaky crumb of crust, I quite nearly passed out.
But thank goodness for Jimmy: having foreseen the onslaught of my cream coma, he’d already written down the recipe for me. And happily so, because after a few days’ recovery and some long walks, I’m sure I’ll be hungry again. There’s already a pint of cream in the fridge.
Jimmy’s Souffléd Quiche with Ham, Cheese, and Asparagus
Vegetarians, take note: though the flavor of the ham plays an integral role in Jimmy's recipe, this quiche would still be lovely sans pork. It's the creamy custardy egg filling that's the true star here. [Jimmy, forgive me; I know this is blasphemy, but I'm an equal-opportunity quiche baker.]
½ recipe Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
4 large eggs
1 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
A small pinch each of salt, cayenne, and nutmeg
1 cup grated cheese (Jimmy used colby, but I imagine that a nice gruyère or cheddar would be delicious as well)
1/4 lb. cooked ham, preferably spiral-sliced, cut into bite-sized pieces
12-16 skinny asparagus tips, steamed just until they turn bright green
Divide the pastry dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion into a circle 6 to 7 inches in diameter, and press the circles into 4 individual-sized tart pans (4-4 ½ inches in diameter; or, if you prefer, you can use 4 4-inch springform pans). Trim excess from edges. Refrigerate the tart shells while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, combine the cream, eggs, flour, salt, cayenne, and nutmeg. Beat on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Remove the tart shells from the refrigerator, and divide half of the ham among them. Do the same with the cheese. Repeat with another layer of ham and of cheese, and then divide the egg mixture equally among the four tart shells (you may have some egg mixture left over). Distribute asparagus tips evenly among the tart shells, laying them in parallel lines over the top.
Bake the quiches for 30-35 minutes, until the filling has puffed and the tops are lightly golden. Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes; then unmold and serve.
Yield: 4 individual-sized quiches