My high school did not come complete with the most rigorous of academic standards (and appropriately I just misspelled rigorous). We dove into deep studies occasionally, for instance that time we read Voltaire’s Candide, and by “read” I mean we watched it on VHS while trying to follow along in the text book. Outside of school I was actually a voracious reader, though mostly brought on by a love of John Grisham and Dean Koontz. I read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books but that was only because I was drawn to the controversy surrounding Slaughterhouse Five. A book being banned? Excellent. I was all over it. Bottom line, I loved to read, but I made it through school with very few classics under my belt.
A few years ago, at the suggestion of Oprah’s Book Club, and in an attempt to make up for lost time, I picked up a newly released copy of John Steinbeck’s opus, East of Eden. The book captivated me. I do not really know why but instantly I was there, deep in the Salinas Valley of Central California. The Irish immigrants, the successes and failures of the Trask family, the dreadful Cathy. The recurring themes of guilt and fortune and choice. It was so rich and I took to the story so completely that I wonder if when I am old and have a tenuous grip on reality whether I will consider that story to be part of my own past.
The part that I think of most often is when Adam, delighted with the addition of an icebox to his kitchen, decides to invest his fortune in a scheme to bring fresh California lettuce to New York in the midst of winter. Through a series of disasters the lettuce makes it – but only in the form of unrefrigerated, inedible, slop and any money not lost to the original venture is then spent to discard the disastrous cargo. Adam loses just about all of the family fortune and scars his sons for life. (Bit unforgiving, them).
Poor Adam Trask. If only he could see what life for out-of-season produce is like today. Even though we are supposed to be rallying against this and eating only what grows within our reach, (Nary an avocado to be had in December, don’t touch tomatoes until the summer and – wait – is that KALE on your plate? It’s May for the love of God! Get rid of that and go grab a stick of rhubarb!), most of us cheat a little. Wait, a correction, “most” of us are not cheating because we have no idea what is in season and what is not. I mean the food obsessed among us know what is in season and what is not and we do still cheat. Just a little. Check Instagram for #avocadotoast. It knows no season. And blood orange margaritas rarely taste better than under the blazing July sun.
This knowledge, and Adam Trask, makes me feel a little less bad for kicking out a recipe, albeit a delicious recipe, for Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Sage Quiche in May.
Originally this came to be in the early winter when it made perfect sense. It was a way to clean out the refrigerator after a long weekend and the anticipation of our Sunday evening Hello Fresh! order. Basically the ingredients are just everything I had on hand. Eggs. Cream. Flour. Butter. Butternut Squash. Onions. Comté cheese. And some sage growing in the garden that the previous tenants left (I think it was sage). Between you and me most of the time I would look at those ingredients and think, “Shit. Nothing. Guess we’re ordering sushi.” But this time I surprised myself and threw it all in the oven and out popped my new favourite quiche. The flavors all just melt together with the high notes of the sage and the rich caramelized onions perfectly wrapping themselves around the oven roasted, toasty butternut squash.
Key, of course, is the right egg+milk ratio. I use a combo of Martha Stewart and Julia Child expertise here. I use lots of eggs (5) and I use cream (or half & half) instead of milk. this makes it all just silkier, creamier. Less like scrambled egg pie and more like a rich custard that you’ve sneaked in for breakfast (or dinner).
So fast forward six months from that original preparation and I’m in the middle of Spring in a beach house with 6 women and I can think of nothing I would rather prepare than that cold-weather quiche. I know it was a punchy call but if you would have seen the look on the ladies’ faces when I pulled it out of the oven on a cold, rainy morning in Wynchelsea, England you’d forgive me. If you could have seen their plates piled high and the warmth and joy it brought six busy Instagrammers separated by a long train ride from their loved ones…you would think not of Alice Waters but of Adam Trask and you give him a silent little high five. Adam, you called it. Sometimes you just want lettuce in January. And sometimes you want squash in May.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, cut into very small cubes
- 1 medium-large red onion, cut into thin slices
- 1 cup half & half (or single cream)
- 5 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup grated Comte cheese
- sea salt
- fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 portion of prepared pie dough for an 8-inch pie shell.
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.
- Roll the prepared crust into a 12" circle and drape into a 9" pie pan. Prick it all over with a fork and then place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove and press parchment paper down over the raw pie rust. Weigh the parchment paper down with 500g (1 lb) of dried beans. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove it from the oven, remove the parchment and beans and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove and set it aside to cool. (This step is called "blind baking. If you want more information about making a perfect pie crust, watch this Martha Stewart Video
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.
- Roast the butternut squash. To do this place the cubed squash on a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes and then remove and set aside.
- While the butternut squash is roasting, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan medium-low heat until the butter has fully melted. Then add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently for about 20 minutes, until the onion has developed a consistent brown color throughout. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the half & half and eggs and a generous dash of salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Add the roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and fresh sage to the pre-baked pie crust. Top with the grated cheese. Then pour the custard (the egg + cream mixture) over the veggies until you reach the top of the crust. DO NOT OVERFILL.
- Bake the quiche for about 40 to 45 minutes. The edges should be golden brown and the center should feel just set when pressed gently with your finger.
- Remove the quiche from the oven and let it cool on a rack. Serve warm, or at room temperature. Alternatively prepare the day before and then reheat at 100C / 212F for an hour before serving.