I made quite a discovery the other day, when I found a bed of star-flowered ramps in my garden. Hiding under the pear tree where I’d planted them some years ago, without knowing that the plant we call l’ail des ours (Bear’s garlic) was a ramp, this year they emerged and bloomed with abundance. I might never have known this garlic-scented plant was a ramp if one of my students hadn’t appeared with a bunch in his hand, a bouquet for the “teacher.” I looked at the bouquet, grabbed the students hand and dragged him over to my pear tree. He whooped. “Ya’ll have ramps in your garden. Unbelievable,” he said.
I’ve since minced and added them to an endive salad, and used the leaves as a garnish with a morel and asparagus quiche that I made the other day. Because ramps emerge in what I refer to as the “shoulder season,” when spring vegetables are beginning to muscle winter vegetables out of the garden, they worked perfectly with both ends of the seasonal spectrum.
Their little white flowers are now faded, their paper-thin green leaves slightly yellowed as they prepare to sink back into the soil for their year-long slumber. In their wake, rhubarb, asparagus, morels, radishes, and a host of other long-awaited fruits and vegetables are coming to the fore.
Take asparagus. I pounce on it as soon as I see it, steaming and braising it almost daily. I keep asparagus preparations simple because I want to experience fully the flavor of this exceptional stalk. Last week, though, I had a handful of morels and a handful of asparagus and I decided to do something revolutionary (for me). I incorporated both into a quiche.
Why revolutionary? Because until now I’ve accorded asparagus super-star status, insisting it perform alone so that I – and my family and guests – could revel in its particularities. The asparagus season is so short, those green or white stalks so precious that I sometimes forget how versatile they can be in my quest to appreciate their purity to the fullest. Now, though, I’ve come down to earth and brought asparagus with me.
For the quiche, I very thinly sliced the asparagus stalks, cut the morels in half and sauteed the two to toothsome tenderness in a bit of butter and garlic. I turned them into a pre-baked tart shell, and covered them with a custard of eggs, cream, and Comté. A scant half hour later, I pulled a golden, puffed quiche from the oven. As I tasted it I was delighted. I’m so glad to have broken the surly bonds of asparagus purity. A whole new era has dawned!
Asparagus and Morel Quiche
If you like a very cheese-rich quiche, add an additional 2 ounces of Comté.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces green or white asparagus, trimmed (if you are using white asparagus, the stalks need to be peeled)
4 ounces fresh morels (1 ounce dried morels*
1 pre-baked, 10-1/2 inch (21 cm) tart shell
4 large eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces grated Comté
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220C).
2. Put the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and beginning to froth, add the garlic, stir, then add the asparagus and the morels. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and saute until the asparagus is softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Turn the vegetables into the pre-baked pastry and spread them out in an even layer (or as even as you can!).
4. Put the eggs in a large bowl and whisk until they are broken up. Whisk in the cream and the milk, season generously with salt and pepper, then stir in the grated cheese. Pour this mixture over the vegetables in the tart shell. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and put it in the oven. Bake until the quiche is golden and puffed, about 25 minutes. To test for doneness, pierce the quiche with the sharp blade of a knife – if it emerges clean, the quiche is cooked.
5. Remove the quiche from the oven and present it to your guests immediately, before it begins to fall. Let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
4 to 6 servings
*If you are using dried morels, to reconstitute them, put them in a bowl and cover them with very hot water. After 10 minutes, remove the morels from the water with a slotted spoon. Don’t drain them in a colander, as the grit from the water will run back through them, and you’ll end up with gritty morels.