Quiche Alsacienne

with slow cooked onions and Comté

Low and slow is the key to getting the onions right for my quiche Alsacienne. The cooking time for the onions might seem long, but it ensures they are perfectly soft all the way through, without caramelising too much. More work than you would think goes into making what outwardly appears to be a very simple dish, but it’s worth it for the decadent and intense flavour pay-off.

Another small but critical detail for this recipe is that the onions and lardons need to be chopped incredibly finely to achieve a light texture, to avoid any unappetising big chunks. Once roughly chopped, you can finish the slicing by pulsing the raw onions / cooked lardons in a blender to really chop them up finely, if, like me, you’re not a whizz with knife skills. This should be a rich and indulgent dish, but balanced with a delicate texture achieved through a combination of slow cooking and finely chopping the ingredients.

I used free-range beech smoked bacon lardons in this recipe to add some extra flavour, but unsmoked lardons work just as well.

You will need a 24cm fluted quiche tin.

INGREDIENTS

  • FOR THE PASTRY
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 200g soft white pastry flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water
  • FOR THE FILLING
  • knob of butter, for frying
  • 2 medium sized white onions, very finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and black pepper, to season
  • 200g lardons
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
  • 100ml double cream
  • 100ml full fat milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 200g Comté, grated

METHOD

PASTRY

Start by making your pastry, which you can do either by hand or using a food processor. First cut your butter into small cubes of roughly 1cm using two knives to avoid touching it with your hands, and place it in a large mixing bowl.

Sift your flour and salt from a height into the bowl, to get the air into the ingredients. Gently rub the butter into the flours using your fingertips. A light touch here is important; lift up the flour as you do this and let it fall back into the bowl to create a lighter texture for the mix. You should end up with a breadcrumb-type consistency – don’t overwork it. If using a food processor, pulse the flour and butter together until you reach this consistency.

Add 2 tablespoons of cold water by sprinkling it evenly over the mixture. Use a blunt kitchen knife or palette knife to incorporate it as quickly as possible and bring the dough together. If you need more water add it gradually and sparingly – you only need enough to bind the dough. If your ingredients look dry then add some more, but stop before it becomes wet and tacky; you want to end up with a soft dough. If using a food processor, it can be a little harder to tell as you can’t touch the dough, so stop the motor from time to time to check the consistency. If you push your ball of dough together and it cracks, the gluten needs a little more working.

Shape your dough into a disc and wrap it in cling film. Rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To blind bake your pastry case, preheat your oven to 220°C. On a lightly floured work surface use a rolling pin to ridge the dough and start to push it outwards before you roll it. Rotate at each quarter turn, and when it is big enough, roll it out into a circle shape, 2-3mm thick. Lay the pastry over the tin using your rolling pin to help lift it, and use your fingers to press it snugly into the grooves. Trim off any excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork to prevent bubbles forming. Cover the base and sides of the case with baking parchment, and weigh it down with baking beans. Make sure the beans are pushed right into the edges of the tin.

Blind bake the pastry case for 10 minutes, until pale golden with no wet patches of dough. Remove the parchment and beans, and prick the base again with a fork. Bake for a further 10 minutes until just golden brown, then remove from the oven and set aside.

FILLING

While the dough is resting in the fridge, make the filling.

Melt a generous knob of butter in a large frying pan over a very low heat. Add the finely chopped onions, a pinch of salt and black pepper, a bay leaf, and two tablespoons of water. Leave it to cook over a low heat for one and a half hours, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick. Add a little more butter and water if the mixture starts to get dry – you want the onions to become very soft, but not to take on colour.

Meanwhile, set the oven temperature to 190°C. Place the lardons in an oven proof dish and bake them for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and slice them into very fine, small slithers, then add them to the frying pan with the onions, along with the thyme. Turn up the heat and fry the mixture for 4-5 minutes. Drain the mixture on paper kitchen towels and set to one side.

Combine the milk and cream with the eggs and nutmeg using a whisk, and pass it through a sieve to ensure a smooth consistency. Lastly, fold through the grated Comté, keeping roughly 50g back to sprinkle on top.

Reduce your oven temperature to 180°C. Spread half the onions and lardons in the base of your tart case (taking care to remove the bay leaf), and pour half the egg and cream mixture over the top. Repeat this layering process, and top with the remainder of the grated Comté. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Leave it to set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with a fresh green salad.