In one’s life there are those meals that are memorable, a revelation really, with the power to bring you back to that moment in time. For me, I am transported to Brussels almost 30 years ago. I was travelling alone in Paris and had decided on a whim to explore a bit of nearby Belgium. No agenda, no reservations. After checking in at my hotel, I headed out to explore the city. After wandering the city for hours I found myself lost in a quaint residential neighborhood, not far from Avenue Louise where many Embassies are located, after darkness had long fallen, famished. I was thinking I should get back to a main street and hail a cab when I came upon a small gem of a restaurant, its amber lighting beckoning me in. I could not believe my luck. Once seated I realized the whole menu was featuring white asparagus. What??? When in Rome….When my dish of steamed asparagus with a soft poached egg in a sublime vinaigrette arrived, I was blown away. Simple but astoundingly delicious. At this point in my life I had only ever had white asparagus from a can, which is not memorable at all. Since then, I have discovered that in some parts of Europe, the white asparagus harvest is celebrated and whole meals in both restaurants and private homes are prepared showcasing white asparagus.
When I read Teresa at Food on Fifth’s “An Homage To White Asparagus and Elizabeth” I knew I would make the deep dish white asparagus pie. I searched for weeks for white asparagus but had missed the short spring season in Pennsylvania. I had resigned myself to making the quiche next spring. But then last week I found ivory hued asparagus from Peru at my local market! I was so surprised and delighted, I started talking to anyone who would listen, to share my excitement. I am sure people thought I was a crazy eccentric. But I knew I had found a treasure and hurried home to make this pie. White asparagus from Peru is not as good as the market-fresh fat spear- asparagus from Europe, but it is better than no white asparagus at all! White asparagus has been revered for centuries. Edouard Manet even immortalized it in 2 famous paintings.
This deep dish quiche is a really delicious homage to white asparagus, which is sweeter than the more common green asparagus. White asparagus is really green asparagus which has been grown without light to prevent photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll. Its texture and taste is unique and it is prized for its earthy subtle flavor. This dish really lets it take a starring role, which it should!
DEEP DISH WHITE ASPARAGUS AND HAM PIE
Adapted from Food on Fifth
1 lb white asparagus
1 pie crust, home made or bought
6 onces of thin sliced ham, chopped
6 onces of shredded white cheese( cheddar, gouda, grugère or swiss)
1 T of grainy mustard
1 c of half and half cream
1 T fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
optional: a few small kale leaves or chopped swiss chard greens
Preheat oven to 375F
In an 8 inch springform pan, fit your pie crust, extending the pastry up the sides a few inches. Using a spatula or a pastry brush, coat the bottom of the crust with the mustard.
Rinse the asparagus, trim to a 3 inch length from the spear end, and blanch in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Dry on paper towels. Only the tender tops of the asparagus will be used in our pie. The rest of the stalks can be used later for soup.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, thyme and salt and pepper.
To assemble, spread half the cheese on the mustard-coated crust. Top with all the chopped ham. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. I used a combination of gruyère and swiss cheese.
Over fhis, pour the egg-cream mixture, tapping the pan gently to allow the eggs to seep through all layers.
With the asparagus spears pointing towards the outside of the pan, lay the spears in a wheel pattern on top of the pie. If using, scatter your kale leaves randomly across the top. I used torn swiss chard, fresh from the garden, on mine. I felt the greens distracted a bit from the beauty of the asparagus pattern and when making this again, I would layer the greens on top of the ham instead.
Place your springform pan on a cookie sheet to catch spills. Bake 40 minutes in the center of the oven. Cool about 10 minutes before running a knife around the edges and removing the sides of the pan.
A golden, glorious homage to white asparagus which transported me back to that magical night in Brussels so long ago. What is your most memorable meal? I hope to have transported you back to your memories of a special meal.