I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

It finally feels like spring around here. Our indoor starts are pushing their way up—Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Swiss chard, leeks, zucchini, cucumbers, and more tomatoes than you can shake a stick at. Outside in the backyard, pea plants are unfurling their leaves, and little shoots of carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, and maybe even a chickpea or two are peeking out through the mulch. By Mother’s Day, we should be able to break into the seed packets that are currently winging our way, and get our community garden patch established, as well as the backyard planters and any other spaces I can snatch from my mom’s lovely flower beds.

But all that is yet to come. Today, for our Easter Sunday brunch, we celebrated Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of spring with some tender green vegetables that are in season right now: fiddlehead ferns and ramps. I spotted them on Friday at Whole Foods, and they flew into my cart before I could blink—I’ve never seen either in Oregon stores, although I’ve examined the big fern in my backyard questioningly from time to time. (Not all ferns have edible shoots, however, and I don’t know what variety mine is, so, as with wild mushrooms, better to be safe, I think!) A friend recommended blanching the little spirals before sauteing to remove their bitterness, and I decided to showcase them in a quiche, together with the ramps.

Ramps are a species of wild leek, which I believe is native to the eastern half of the United States. Several Oregonians I have talked to commented about having ramps in their yards, but upon examination, they were more like some sort of wild spring onion with a very strong scent and an appearance like scallions or chives. As you can see from the photo above, ramps have a bulb much like a scallion, but their leaves are much broader, and delicate enough to slice and saute like spinach. They have a strong flavor very much like spring onions or green garlic, both of which I love, and I sliced them up, bulb, greens, and all, to saute with the fiddleheads in a little bacon grease. The quiche was completed with some eggs, a little goat cheese, and a par-baked refrigerated pie crust (which, purchased by my mother before Nolan and I arrived in Denver, needed to be either used or thrown out).

The quiche was delightfully fresh and green. The gracefully coiled fiddleheads were not only decorative, but tasty as well, with a texture and flavor akin to asparagus but more earthy and wild. The ramps exploded with fresh oniony flavor—I can still taste them in my mouth an hour and a half later. The goat cheese was subtly creamy, and the crust actually stayed flaky and crisp, thanks to par-baking with an egg white wash and then showering the bottom of the pan with grated Gruyere before pouring in the filling. I served it with skillet potatoes and some pre-cooked chicken sausages for a full meal.

But as delicious as the quiche was, for me no brunch is complete without some sort of sweet element. We had challah bread and fresh blueberries on hand, and my first instinct was to make stuffed French toast with blueberry compote. In the course of my planning, however, that idea morphed into a baked French toast or bread pudding studded with blueberries, and then into a blueberry brown betty with banana custard. Eventually, I settled on individual bettys, tucking flattened slices of challah into the wells of a butter-brushed muffin tin.

The custard element needed two egg yolks, which worked out perfectly since I was able to use the egg whites to seal the quiche crust and bulk up its filling. It was a simple matter of simmering whole milk with a cinnamon stick and some vanilla sugar, tempering in the yolks, and finishing off the lot with some well-mashed ripe banana. Each challah crust got a dollop of strained custard and a heaping spoonful of bread crumb streusel tossed with blueberries. Twenty-five minutes later, the bettys were golden brown and ready to be devoured.

My bread-loving son gobbled down two in a row, carefully chasing down stray berries with juice-stained fingers and filling his lap with crumbs. I am not a big blueberry fan myself, but I had to appreciate the nest-like appearance of this dish for spring; and the cinnamon-scented crumbs, juicy berries, creamy custard and crisp crust worked together so harmoniously that I ate every bite. These flavors would be equally at home on a brunch board, tea tray, or dessert plate, but they were the perfect complement to our savory quiche. Happy Easter to everyone!

Fiddlehead Quiche with Ramps

4 ramps, chopped
1 C fiddlehead ferns, rinsed and trimmed
1 C milk
2 egg whites plus 1 whole egg (or two eggs)
3/4 C goat cheese, crumbled
3 T Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tsp grated lemon zest, optional
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Using a refrigerated pie crust or your favorite crust recipe, tuck a rolled-out round of crust into a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it back against the sides. Cover with foil and weight with pie chains or beans, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the weights and foil, and use a pastry brush to brush with a bit of egg white; return to the oven for 5 minutes more, until just set. While hot, sprinkle the Gruyere evenly over the bottom of the crust and set aside.

While the crust bakes, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Clean and trim the fiddleheads if necessary, then boil them until just tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain, shock in cold water, and set aside. Meanwhile, melt some bacon fat in a skillet; add the chopped ramps and saute, first the bulbs, then the greens, until tender and wilted, adding the blanched fiddleheads in the last minute.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the milk (I actually used part milk and part cream), eggs, goat cheese, lemon zest if using (I intended to, but forgot, and we didn’t miss it), salt and pepper. Stir in the sautéed vegetables. Pour the filling carefully into the prepared crust, and bake until golden brown, approx. 20 minutes. Let the quiche stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Source: Slightly adapted from Edible Communities.

Blueberry Betty Nests with Banana Custard

2 egg yolks
1/2 C whole milk
2 T vanilla sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 ripe banana, well mashed

8 1/2″ slices of challah bread, crusts removed
3 T butter, melted
1/3 C fresh blueberries
1/2 C panko or freshly toasted bread crumbs
2 T brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325F.

For custard: Heat milk with vanilla sugar and cinnamon stick over medium low heat until it has nearly come to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks in a small measuring bowl and temper them with some of the milk, then whisk into the saucepan with the remaining milk and simmer just until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the mashed banana, and pour the custard through a strainer into a small bowl. Set aside while preparing the crusts.

For crust: Use a pastry brush to liberally coat the wells of a muffin tin (you should have about 2 T of melted butter leftover). Using a rolling pin, flatten out the slices of challah bread as much as possible, and tuck each slice into a muffin well, pressing it down against the sides and bottom and tearing away the overhang. Brush the interior of the bread with more butter (there should still be about 1 T remaining). Spoon a tablespoon or two of custard into the bottom of each crust.

For streusel: In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining tablespoon of butter until well combined; gently toss in the blueberries. Mound about 2 tablespoons of crumb topping into each muffin well, making sure each one gets some blueberries. Bake at 325F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Cool slightly and then remove from muffin tin; the crust should be crisp enough to hold its shape. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if eating for dessert.

Source: Freely adapted from Food and Wine and Smitten Kitchen.

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