Spring semester, junior year of college, I left the confines of my cozy Pennsylvania campus and struck out for France, settling in the northeastern city of Nancy. I felt unsure of everything, including how to pronounce the city’s name. (It’s nahn-see.)
I doubt I made much of an impression on Nancy, but the city left its mark on me: I’ll never forget its town square ringed in iron and gold, the small shop where I purchased my baguettes, or the terror I felt in philosophy class, where, daily, I truly believed that if I made myself as small as possible, the professor would take pity on me and call on someone else.
In addition to being important to me personally, Nancy is actually famous for something far greater: It’s the birthplace of Quiche Lorraine, that custardy, savory French pie beloved for its heady mix of bacon, Gruyère, and cream.
Culinaria France, part of a well-loved series of large-format cookbooks, delves into Quiche Lorraine’s origins. We learn that a baker discovered the dish in the 16th century; that it was originally crusted with bread dough rather than pâte brisée (short crust, which we use today); and that the filling numbered just three ingredients: eggs, cream, and diced, smoked bacon. Later, Gruyère entered the fray, and it’s now almost inconceivable to imagine a Quiche Lorraine, or any quiche really, without at least a modicum of cheese.
Quiche Lorraine may be the standard-bearer of the quiche family, but families can be big, and let’s face it: Sometimes the quirky cousin or wacky great-aunt is the most fun to hang out with at a reunion. So don’t feel constrained by quiche’s hallowed traditions.
Yes, you’ll want to make sure there’s a softly set custard and a tender, flaky crust, but if you want to toss some veggies in there (blanched asparagus, rounds of tomato, par-cooked broccoli, bell pepper strips), please go ahead. Your meat, while always optional, can remain pork-centric, but will anyone would complain if some smoked chicken found its way in there? (Answer: No.) And the crust, so long as it shatters pleasantly when your fork says hello, can also go left, or right, or make a zigzag or loop de loop.
In our summer issue, we offer a Prosciutto and Leek Quiche in a Sunflower Kernel Crust. Is it from 16th century France? It isn’t. But pass me a fork and see if I care.