Saturday 18 November 2017

RECIPES: Brenda Costigan with a perfect light summer meal

With a green salad and a glass of wine, a slice of quiche makes a perfect light summer meal, says Brenda Costigan, and there is plenty of scope for variation with this French classic


An annual list of our likes and dislikes in the food department will naturally vary as time passes. For example, I simply couldn't take to olives for many years. Then I tried a chicken recipe that includes olives and capers and I was converted. Now I happily munch away, taking great pleasure choosing from the display of olives in many delicatessens. (See page 153 of my cookbook From Brenda's Kitchen, for my version of this recipe.)

However, there is one dish that will always feature on my list of favourite foods, and that is a quiche. One of the main advantages of a quiche is that it is almost a complete course itself, simply requiring a nice tossed green salad to accompany it. Did somebody mention a glass of wine, too? It's a perfect choice for a light summer meal and a quiche can make the centre of a summer buffet with a selection of salads and cold meats.

Another advantage of the quiche is the scope for variation. Traditionally, in the north-east corner of France, a Quiche Lorraine is a simple shortcrust pastry base, filled with a savoury custard of eggs and cream, containing chunks of cooked ham or bacon and some cheese. All manner of meats, fish or vegetables can be substituted for the ham or bacon.

To ensure that the base of the pastry is cooked, it is wise to precook the base in the oven for about 10 minutes. To ensure the pastry keeps its shape, use the age-old method of placing a large piece of baking parchment into the pastry-lined tin, large enough to come up taller than the sides. Then fill this with a thin layer of uncooked rice, about 1cm (½in) deep -- keep some rice for this purpose, it can be used again and again. This prevents the pastry rising and leaving no room for the filling. The pastry can be cooked at a higher oven temperature than the filling, as the custard needs to be cooked gently to set and turn golden on top.


I use a large flan tin with fluted sides and a lift-out base, bought in a specialist kitchen shop. It is 30cm (12in) in diameter on the top edge and 38cm (11in) across the base. It is 4cm (1½in) deep, which makes 8-10 servings.

For the pastry, you will need:

225g (8oz) flour (not self-raising), see note below

150g (5oz) wholemeal flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g (7oz) butter

60-90ml cold water

For the filling, you will need:

350g (12oz) sliced leeks

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

150g (5oz) mushrooms, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

500-700g (1¼-1½lb) cooked lean ham, cut in small chunks

4-6 large tomatoes, sliced

6 large eggs

200ml (7fl oz) fresh cream (or half milk, half cream)

150ml (5fl oz) fresh milk (approx)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

150-200g (5-7oz) mature white Cheddar, grated


If liked, use half white flour and half wholemeal flour in the pastry. If you opt to use any wholemeal flour, don't chill it before rolling out as it tends to crack.

Preheat oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. Put the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cut the butter into lumps and rub it into the flour until like breadcrumbs, or else buzz in a food processor, and then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add just enough water to make a dough, using your hands to draw the pastry into one lump, kneading lightly. Chill in the fridge, unless you are using wholemeal flour, dust a board with flour -- wholemeal for wholemeal pastry -- and roll the pastry out large enough to comfortably fit the base and sides of the tin. Lift the pastry onto a rolling pin and lay it over the tin -- don't stretch to fit. Tuck the pastry into the corners of the tin and allow it to hang generously over the sides. This prevents the sides of the pastry, which can be trimmed off when cooked, from collapsing into the tin during baking.

Before baking, place a large piece of baking parchment in the pastry case, coming up the sides, and fill with a shallow, even layer of dried beans or uncooked rice. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Take out of the oven, remove paper and beans or rice and return to the oven and bake for 2-3 minutes more to dry out the base.

Turn down the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. Put the washed, sliced leeks into a pan with the butter and about 150ml (¼pt) water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently to partially soften the leeks. Drain off the excess water.

Fry the chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until they are tasty. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Take off the pan.

Scatter the fried onion, garlic and mushrooms in an even layer over the pastry base, then scatter the leeks on top, followed by the chunks of cooked lean ham. Put the sliced tomatoes in a layer over everything. Whisk together the eggs, the fresh cream and the fresh milk and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the Dijon mustard. Stir in the finely chopped fresh parsley, if you are using it, and pour the liquid over the other fillings. There should be enough liquid to cover the filling in the pastry case. Scatter the grated mature white Cheddar over the top. Put the quiche into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until the filling is well set and the top is deliciously golden. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before cutting.


This tasty traditional Greek pie uses filo pastry and the filling is mainly spinach and feta cheese. It makes an excellent alternative to a quiche, providing you like spinach. If you wish to lift the pie out of the baking tin for serving, then use a tin with a removable base. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

500g (18oz) fresh spinach (or frozen spinach, thawed and drained)

50g (2oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼-½ teaspoon nutmeg

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons spring onions, finely sliced

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

150g (5oz) feta, coarsely crumbled

50g (2oz) pine nuts, toasted on a hot dry pan

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan

6-8 sheets of filo pastry

Use a round tin 23cm (9in) in diameter, greased.

Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5. Cut the stalks off the fresh spinach and wash in lots of cold water. Put the spinach, dripping with the clean rinsing water, into a wide saucepan. No more water is required. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5-10 minutes, shaking occasionally until the volume of the spinach is drastically reduced. Strain off the liquid and chop coarsely. If using frozen spinach, cook according to the packet instructions.

Melt 15g (½oz) of the butter with the olive oil in the rinsed-out saucepan. Add the crushed garlic and the finely chopped onion and fry gently to soften, then add in the spinach. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and the nutmeg. Draw off the heat and allow to cool.

Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add the finely sliced spring onions and the chopped parsley with a hint of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then stir in the spinach mixture, the feta, the toasted pine nuts and the freshly grated Parmesan.

Melt the remaining butter and brush it onto the filo pastry; about 4-5 sheets should be enough to line the base and sides of the tin. The filo sheets, buttered side up, should overlap each other generously, making a double layer. Let the end of each sheet flap out over the sides of the tin. Spoon the spinach mixture into the prepared tin. Fold the flaps of filo back over the top of the filling. Place enough of the remaining sheets of filo, buttered side up, to cover the top of the filling, trimming to fit. Pierce a few holes in the filo and bake in the preheatd oven, for about 30 minutes until the top is golden. Leave to stand for a good 10 minutes before serving.


Another taste of summer. The slightly sweet taste of the crabmeat is given the merest hint of extra flavour with a smidgen of cayenne pepper. The vacuum packets of crabmeat available from the chilled cabinets are excellent for this recipe. The smaller tin will result in a deeper quiche. Serves 4-5 as a main lunch dish. Serves 6-8 when served in thin wedges as a starter.

For the pastry, you will need:

175g (6oz) flour (not self-raising)

100g (3½oz) butter

4-8 tablespoons cold water

Use a round flan/sandwich tin, 20.5-23cm (8-9in) in diameter, ideally with a removable base, brushed inside with melted butter.

For the filling, you will need:

1 generous tablespoon mayonnaise

½ teaspoon wholegrain Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Small pinch cayenne pepper, use sparingly as it is very hot (optional)

2 tablespoons spring onions, finely chopped

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

175 ml (6fl oz) fresh cream

200-225g (7-8oz) crabmeat

A little freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5. Put the flour into a food processor and add the butter, cut in small lumps. Buzz in short bursts until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs and then transfer to a mixing bowl. If a food processor is not available, rub the butter through the flour with your fingertips.

Add barely enough water to the dry ingredients to bind the pastry together. Knead it lightly to make the pastry and then wrap it in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry thinly and line the prepared tin. Be absolutely sure that there are no holes in the pastry or the filling will leak out! Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Put in a piece of baking parchment and fill with rice (as described above for the first recipe).

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or so until the edges are set but barely golden. Lift out of the oven and carefully lift off the parchment and rice and put in the filling.

Turn down the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.

To make the filling, put the mayonnaise, the wholegrain Dijon mustard, a seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper, the cayenne pepper and the finely chopped spring onions in a bowl. Then add in the egg, the egg yolk and the fresh cream. Whisk together and then add in the crabmeat. Pour into the pastry case and sprinkle freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if you are using it, on the top.

Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until just set deliciously golden. Ideally serve while still warm, but this dish also tastes great at room temperature.


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