Nettle quiche

My first bite of nettle quiche was a take-out slice from Duncan’s Garage Bakery and Cafe. Every mouthful was a culinary revelation. Dark chunks of earthy greenness couched among creamy eggs, mushrooms, salty feta and buttery, flaky pastry –  this quiche bewitched. 

It did something else.  It tapped into my brain’s ever-pulsing cooking lobes, prompting synapses to pop like corn. I had to make this. 

The next day, my beleaguered husband is inevitably involved. We’re on Stony Hill Trail and I’ve sniffed out some nettles. Stinging nettles. David is holding a large plastic bag open as widely as he can, while I clip and clip, wearing gloves and laughing. These wild plants are the kind I’ve seen posted on Instagram inside rich, green, layered cakes slathered with icing. The kind that can leave a prickly sensation on your skin for hours, if not days. David is leaning as far away from me as he can,  knowing the sting from this nettle too well. Years ago, he’d picked an innocent bunch of leaves to vigorously wipe bicycle grease from his hands only to inflict a painful 48-hour reaction. I notice a sideways grimace from him as I stuff each bright green bundle perilously close to his bare hands and arms. 

IMG_9836Once home, I carry my two bulging forest bags into the kitchen. I climb a step stool and reach for the tallest pasta pot I can safely lift down without breaking my neck. Once boiling and salted, the water is ready for my nettles to take the plunge.  I put my muddy garden gloves back on. I’d wear clean oven gloves were it not for the dexterity the tongs required.  

In and out. Quickly. Each plunge was a messy affair, stems and leaves flying left and right as I pushed them into the water (not unlike squirming live crabs or lobsters who have seen the same fate.) But nettles die instantly. Each thorn is annulled in a nano-second ready to be pulled out limp from the black-grey water, as I inhale the rich, vegetal aroma. 

“Like spinach, but better,” opines my fellow spinach-lover as we dine.   

That’s after we pick up four dozen eggs at our favourite farm stand on Richard’s Trail.  Promise Valley always has their red cooler out, usually packed high with egg cartons and a big, blue freezer block wedged inside. Only once have we found the cooler empty,  our disappointment dashed by the appearance of the farm’s two pet goats pressing up against the fence their long, silky ears and wet noses begging for a scratch.

Just a week before that fateful nettle-filled bite at Duncan’s Garage, I was invited by dairy farmer Caroline Nagtegaal into Promise Valley’s hen house to witness “afternoon chores.”

“Want it?” asked this tiny blond woman in very tall boots as she smiled and giggled, offering me the handles of a large, wired egg basket.  We were standing with the hens, the air a cackling, bawk-ing din, intermingled with saw dust and chicken shit.  

IMG_0224“I’ve been doing this since I was five, but I still yelp when they nip me.”

Her hand was tucked under the rump of a Highline Brown, sitting proud and unruffled in one of a long line of boxes. Some boxes were empty, others occupied. All were lined with straw, tamped down into a nest-like well. Not all of Promise Valley’s 190 hens were inside that afternoon, but Rocky the Rescue Rooster was standing among a particularly talkative clutch collected around my ankles.   

IMG_0227I chickened-out and made a tentative reach into an unoccupied box to find five or six abandoned eggs.  Brown and beige, these eggs were room-temperature to touch except one that radiated such warmth, it must have been freshly laid. 

Of course, that wasn’t my first instinct, holding that egg.  It felt like eggs I have cooled after hard-boiling, warm but ready to shell. Seeing the hen house, helping Caroline collect the eggs as she does every afternoon every single day, was a privilege for this city girl who is always thinking about food, its whereabouts and how it can be transformed into something delicious. 

Like quiche and nettles. 

I reach into the freezer and pull a small bag of dark, green frozen nettles, the product of my nettle forage with David. Each bulging bag’s forest-fresh contents had been flash-boiled, transferred tong-by-tongfull into a large ice bath and drained. I had removed all the stems, squeezed handfuls over the sink to remove excess liquid and bagged up my nettle cache for the freezer. 

Asparagus was roasting in the oven while chopped onions sizzled in butter on the stove-top.  I grated a chunk of white cheddar and beat half a dozen of Caroline’s eggs.  I dumped the eggs into a four-cup glass measure containing milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg. 

I defrosted half a nettle bag’s contents in a bowl of cold water, then dispersed little mounds  along the bottom of my Einkorn and Red Fife pastry covered with soft, fragrant onions, followed by a showering of cooled roasted asparagus and grated cheddar. 

Once the quiche was safely tucked inside the oven, sitting on a rimmed baking sheet in case of  any run-off, I could relax and dream. Promise Valley is making the transition to organic and will soon be offering Guernsey milk and cream-top yogurt at their farm stand. When they open their doors I will be first in line, conjuring up more tasty recipes to share here at Mado Food.

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Nettle and Asparagus Quiche

If you don’t have stinging nettles substitute with spinach and pretend. 

2 tbsp butter

1/2 large cooking onion, chopped 

1 cup defrosted frozen nettles

6 spears cooked asparagus, sliced into 1- inch pieces

1 cup grated old cheddar

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk or cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cayenne

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat butter in a frying pan and sauté onions until soft and fragrant. Set aside and cool. 

Arrange onions, nettles, asparagus and 3/4 cup of the grated cheddar on the bottom of the pie pastry crust that you have made (see recipe below) or bought frozen.

In a medium bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, eggs, salt, nutmeg, cayenne and freshly ground pepper.  Pour into the pie crust and top with remaining cheese.  

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in the middle of the oven for 50-60 min or until the centre of the quiche is golden brown, set and the middle won’t jiggle when gently shook.  Remove from the oven and wait 10-20  minutes before serving (to further set and slice up well).

 

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Einkorn and Red Fife Pastry

This flavour-forward pastry dough is adapted from Flourist and will taste best if you use freshly ground, local grain. If you are stuck with supermarket-only options, use whole wheat pastry flour instead of Red Fife and white pastry flour instead of Einkorn and cut down the ice cold water to 1/4-1/2 cup. Yields 1 double crust pie pastry. Freeze the leftover single crust for your next quiche adventure.

1 2⁄3 (230g) cup True Grain Sifted Red Fife Flour

1 cup (138g) cup True Grain Whole Einkorn Flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (227g) butter, cold and cut into cubes 

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

3/4-1 cup ice cold water, or as needed

Pulse flour and salt In a food processor bowl once or twice to combine. Sprinkle over with cubed butter and process on high for 30 seconds or more, until butter is the size of small peas. Pour vinegar and ice cold water through the tube with the motor running, adding water by the tablespoon until it adheres into a mass. 

Transfer to a large sheet of waxed paper and press the crumbly mess into a round disc. Wrap well and refrigerate two hours or until firm. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the disc and arrange in a deep (5-cup/1.25L) pie dish.

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Experiments in Einkorn

When the curious around me ask, “What have you been baking these days?” and I reply “Einkorn” I might as well kill that conversation. Enunciating these two simple consonants, Ein then Korn, is an instant entrée to “Huh?” and glazed-over eyes.

Perhaps the most ancient among ancient grains, Einkorn is grown here in BC and is in desperate need of a makeover. Few seem to know how tasty it is.  Or the delight a baker such as me has when poking my schnoz into a freshly milled bag and inhaling the sweet wonder that is Einkorn.

I bought my first bag from Flourist.com who shipped my flour over the Georgia Strait from their Vancouver bakery and mill. I liked buying an organic, traceable grain that is freshly milled right before packaging. I also liked seeing a line drawing of all their producers, including Einkorn grower Lorne Muller of Swan River Valley, Manitoba.

When I read the flowery descriptor under the 2 kg bag of Einkorn priced at $24.95 (compared to $15.95 for whole spelt) I was not a believer.  It said, “This flour showcases the taste of ancient Einkorn wheat, with a flavour that shines in everything from pastry crust to sourdough bread”

Them’s fighting words, I thought. How could this unknown, nobody grain be so tasty in so many baking applications?

It was time to test.

 

 

First, I made pancakes, sourdough einkorn pancakes with frozen wild blackberries. They were good but, in my mind, just ol’ pancakes.

 

Second try was stupendous: Einkorn Banana Bread. I found a recipe posted at The Perfect Loaf under “my top three leftover sourdough recipes”.

Like pancakes, I’ve made banana bread a million times but never has it domed so high (and not fallen) with a porous, sourdough bread texture. img_4124.jpg Einkorn offered up a nutty, sweetness. This quick bread was addictive and thanks to einkorn, high in protein, fibre and eye-healthy carotenoids and lutein.

My next try, 50% Einkorn sourdough levain (recipe below) was fated for success the moment I watched the dough twirl around my KitchenAid dough hook in a remarkable creamy softness, as if whipping cream.  Yet, this was a whole grain.

Things got einkorn crazy when my friend Wilma and I scarfed down several helpings each of my next test: Pear Tarte Tatin.  This gluttony, after a particularly filling sushi-making party, had never been witnessed before by her partner or mine.

All we girls could say is “The einkorn made me do it.”

It may not have hurt that the pears were so sexy and that this tart oozed with butter and sugar, yet never have I received such personal affirmation for a whole grain dessert.

If Einkorn could dance on the tongue for dessert, could it go solo soaked and sprouted in a jar? I measured out one quarter cup of BC-grown kernels purchased at Cowichan Bay’s True Grain bakery. After a 12 hr soak, the kernels had plumped up. Some had split. After another 24 hours, little white tails emerged on most of the kernels.  I topped that evening’s salad with a couple of spoonful’s adding a sweet, crunchy nuttiness to simple microgreens and grape tomatoes.

The finale of my Einkorn tests hit a crescendo with risotto. My top recipe taster and ardent Arborio rice fan was aghast at the suggestion.  But when faced with my creation at the dining table, he quickly returned to the pot for seconds.

I would never have tried this had I not tasted and devoured friend Randy’s superb farro risotto.  If Randy could do it, so could I, especially knowing that farro is Italian for spelt and einkorn’s Italian appellation is piccolo farro or little spelt.

Listening to my inner Marcella Hazan, I went to the stove, pulled out a medium saucepan and heated up some olive oil and a knob of butter. I tossed in sliced leeks, diced cremini mushrooms and fresh rosemary stirring and sautéing until the  juices emerged. In went a cup of einkorn kernels, which I sautéed for 2-3 minutes getting the pan adequately dry and toasty before adding sliced, reconstituted porcini mushrooms and a big splash (3/4 cup) white wine that filled the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. Over the course of 30 minutes, I slowly added mushroom stock by the half-cup-full stirring and cooking the kernels in their uncovered pot until they were soft, tender and truly nutty.

True confessions: Einkorn kernels will not melt into the same creamy luxuriousness that an Arborio or Navarro rice can but Parmigiana Reggiano is always at the rescue.  Freshly ground black pepper is another must.

Experimenting the gamut of Einkorn, from sweet confections to healthy raw sprouts made me a believer. It turns out Flourist wasn’t being flowery in that description at all.  This grain can do it all.IMG_4144

50 Per Cent Einkorn Levain

This dough is very extensible and stretched a yard when I scraped it from the mixing bowl to a plastic bin. I got the same results during stretch and folds. It baked up high, with a dark mahogany crust with traces of raisin and cinnamon in the air.

Levain:

1.8 oz            liquid starter

5.2 oz            Spring water

8 oz               Unbleached, organic white hard/bread flour

In a medium bowl, dissolve starter in water with a fork. Add bread flour and knead into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand at room temperature for 12-16 hours.

Final dough:

Levain (minus 1.5 oz)

1lb .6oz         Spring water

2tbsp             honey

1lb                 Whole Einkorn

8 oz               Unbleached, organic white hard/bread flour

Dissolve levain in spring water in stand mixer bowl. Add honey, Einkorn and bread flour. Use the paddle attachment at low speed, mixing until a shaggy mass. Cover and autolyse (let stand) for 20 min.

.6 oz                     sea salt

Sprinkle dough over with sea salt, using dough hook, mix at low for 3 min.  The dough will separate from the sides of the bowl and create a firm ball.

Transfer to a large oiled bowl or covered plastic bin.

Bulk fermentation: 1 hr. 40 min  (Stretch and fold once, after 50 min)

Shape two loaves and place in bannetons dusted with rice flour.  Cover each with a large plastic bag and refrigerate immediately, 12-16hrs

Preheat dutch ovens at 500F for at least 30 min, bake 20 min covered, reduce to 460F and bake 20 min uncovered. Transfer to wire racks to cool.