Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Asparagus and Parma Ham Flan / Quiche (delete as appropriate)

"My default move when it comes to this type of blazing controversy is to refer to Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food. Interestingly (or not?) it states that flan is derived from an old French term for custard, flaon, whereas quiche is actually derived from the German word kuchen."
With the asparagus season well and truly on us, I thought it was about time I got round to posting something on the subject. It is this particular vegetable's short season which seems to drive your average food anorak into the biggest rapture, drawing eulogies that are usually reserved for white truffles, native oysters, beluga caviar and other such gourmet items. I think this is possibly down to the magic combination of its limited availability and genuine seasonality, its priapic appearance, and most importantly of all its taste, which I would say is quite unlike most other vegetables.

But, unlike those other feted ingredients, it is ridiculously cheap at the moment; I'm afraid I was in Tesco the other day (not even I can escape its all consuming grip) and they were selling two bundles for three quid, which is a bargain for such a delicacy. In Mark Hix’s book on seasonal food (I referred to it in the wild garlic post) he says the very same thing, and that he would be happy to pay more for it. While the Yorkshireman in me can’t quite agree with him on that, it is well worth snapping up at those prices.

In some senses it is this very abundance which prompts this post; at the start of the season all I want to do is eat it with melted butter or hollandaise and plenty of sea salt, but once that thrill starts to pall, your attention will turn to other uses for it. The result of which is the following recipe for an Asparagus and Parma Ham Flan / Quiche.

Firstly though, I should explain my use of two words to describe the dish when perhaps one would do nicely. Quiche seems to have become the standard term for any recipe involving a pastry case with a savoury egg custard filling. However, the traditional English term for a dish of this type is flan (which is the preferred term here at Gastrolad), but this seems to have gone out of fashion for some reason. So which is the one to use? My default move when it comes to this type of blazing controversy is to refer to Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food. Interestingly (or not?) it states that flan is derived from an old French term for custard, flaon, whereas quiche is actually derived from the German word kuchen. So your choice is either an Anglo-French entente cordiale or a Franco-German European super state……but to all intents and purposes they mean the same thing, so whether it matters is a moot point. In a patriotic fervour I will stick to flan.

Without any further etymological digressions, to the recipe. It is another pretty simple one and as long as you’re ok with pastry a walk in the park.

Asparagus and Parma Ham Flan:

150g flour (I used a mix of white and wholegrain)
75g butter, cut into cubes

4 eggs
2 tbsp crème fraiche
½ onion (optional)
Approx 10 asparagus spears
1 packet parma ham
Few shavings of comté (optional)
Salt and pepper

  1. First up is the pastry. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and then add enough water (about 3 or 4 tablespoons) to bring it together. I usually use a knife to stir the water in, and then use my hands to bring the mixture together.
  2. Once it comes together into a ball, wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge to chill for about half an hour.
  3. After this, take it out of the fridge and roll out into a circle. When doing this make sure the surface and rolling pin are well floured to avoid any sticking.
  4. When it is just less than the thickness of a pound coin, place the pastry carefully into a ten inch flan case, and trim the edges. You can leave a bit of overlap though as the pastry will shrink during cooking, this can then be tidied up at the end.
  5. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork, line with baking parchment and then weigh this down using ceramic baking beans, rice, or some other dried pulse or bean. The purpose of this is to stop the pastry puffing up in the oven, which it will do unless weighted down.
  6. You can now blind-bake (i.e. bake it without any filling) for 10-15 mins at approx 200c / gas 6.  
  7. While this is cooking you can make the filling. I had half an onion in the fridge, so chopped this and fried it until soft in butter to add to the filling, but you could probably leave this out if you wanted. Then wrap the asparagus spears in parma ham, before turning your attention to the custard.
  8. For the custard break four eggs into a bowl and whisk, then add the crème fraiche and a few splashes of milk, before giving the mixture another good whisk. Then grate in about two handfuls of parmesan (or any other hard cheese you have to hand) and season with salt and pepper.
  9. The pastry should have blind baked by now and be ready for the filling. Add the sautéed onions first, then the asparagus and parma ham and finally pour over the custard. We had some Comté in the fridge, which is a lovely, slightly nutty, hard cheese from the Jura in France, so I shaved some of that over the top as well before putting it into the oven, but this is optional.
  10. Bake at 190c / gas 5 for around 20 mins, by which stage it should be a nice golden colour and just cooked through!
  11. Eat, drink and be merry!
Stage 3

Stage 4

Stage 9, pre-custard

Stage 9, post-custard
The finished article
Looking back at what I’ve written, it seems like a lot of work, but I promise it isn’t, and home-made flan is far superior to the flabby, eggy mess you get from the ready made varieties. 

Regarding wine, asparagus is often partnered by a Sauvignon Blanc, so possibly something from the Loire, but with the rich pastry and egg custard it might be better with an Australian Semillon or a Jurancon sec.  

Another digression here, but something I thought was worth sharing. Whilst making my lunch today I found some left over mashed potatoes and spring greens in the fridge, and thought that bubble and squeak with a fried egg and some bacon would go down very nicely. It was only when I put it on the plate I realised the coincidence, which I have documented below…

Emma Bridgewater should be paying me for this kind of thing, especially when their plates are £16 a throw!

1 comment:

  1. I have just bought a FLAN dish and intend to make this on the weekend, yummy