And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
My husband has been bringing me treasures from the garden, fresh mint heady with the scent of candy canes and chewing gum, long stalks of pale green angelica, its odd, faint scent of something (I cannot quite put my finger on it) belying its tough, hardy exterior. He opened my hand and turned it palm up and placed there a single, tiny branch with miniscule leaves and a tiny oval orb the color of jade, like a delicate piece of jewelry. “Our first olive!” he exulted. He points up to show me the new bunch of grapes, quite possibly the only ones we will be having, in the tangle of branches just outside the diningroom window. The mint and the angelica flavor pots of jam, strawberry or apricot, and the olives and grapes will be ours to watch, nurture, enjoy, marking our first summer in Chinon with a big fat horticultural exclamation point.
I hang a row of branches, a tangle of mint leaves, in the boiler room, each branch clothespinned to the line, a row of branches of mint hanging upside down like mistletoe at Christmastime, mint left to dry, the leaves fading, curling into itself like a clenched fist, becoming brittle and fragile, to be plucked off one by one and dropped into the jar in the kitchen. Mint tea.
We don’t cook much since it is now high season at the hotel, our precious few free hours of every day used to rest, feet up, book in hand, or to sit in the breeze coming through the open French window eating ice cream directly from the carton. I spend a few afternoons each week in the kitchen standing at the stove in the sweltering heat stirring great cauldrons of bubbling jam, so I have little desire to cook a meal. Jean-Pierre will throw together a salad or steam green beans straight from Mme. Lainel’s kitchen garden (she generously, kindly prepares them for us, snipping off the ends and removing the string that slides down the side of each bean) and carries them (wrapped in newspaper and tucked in a plastic bag) over to me. Steamed (so sweet), they are served topped with crumbled feta, slices of cold boiled potatoes, summery tomatoes, and thick wedges of avocado all tossed in mustard vinaigrette. And lately served with hard-boiled eggs, the eggs (in varying shades of pale browns and creams) coming straight from the chickens that are fed on the hotel’s stale bread, brioche, and croissants, another gift from Mme. Lainel.
On Thursday mornings, as early as possible and when there is a lull in the breakfast room, I dash to the market on Place Jeanne d’Arc where I pick up a bundle (7 or 8 at this time of the year) of logs of fresh goat cheese for the hotel breakfasts, straight from the producer. I jump across the walk space just in front of my cheesemonger and beg the woman standing behind a stall made of a large piece of plywood settled atop trestles, a jerryrigged table covered with lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, turnips, and strawberries, lots and lots of strawberries (perfect berries a deep red lined up elegantly in small containers) straight from the producer’s fields, and beg for crates of strawberries for jam. Fraises pour confiture.
I heft my bag filled with goat cheese on one shoulder, push my sunglasses far up my nose so as not to lose them along the way, and lift two of the four crates of strawberries (each weighing 3 kilos) and waddle my way as fast as I can back to the hotel and back to breakfast. I will run back after the last guest leaves the breakfast room for the other two crates.
And I purchase my seasonal fruits and vegetables. From my fruit guy. You do remember my fruit guy, don’t you?
When I do cook, it must be simple, something that won’t rattle my brain that has been bogged down since before dawn with breakfasts, errands, clients names and rooms numbers, following on the heels of the cleaning team, discussing finances and planning with husband. Something that won’t fatigue my old bones that have been going since 6:00 a.m. and are only demanding to sit. Throwing together a pie or quiche crust is easy and quick and it can then rest in the refrigerator until I am ready to bake. Nothing is easier than a quiche filling (bowl and whisk) and the additions, whether caramelized onions and mushrooms, lardons or bacon, or fresh vegetables and cheese, are as I please and rather ad libbed in both type and quantity. And baked when I feel the urge and have the energy, these individual quiches are ready to eat – hot, warm, or chilled – just when I want them to be
These individual quiches are among my favorite and just scream summer. Cherry tomatoes are made sweeter by roasting in the oven and, placed whole in the quiche filling, burst in the mouth when forked in. Rocket gives these quiches a bright yet bitter bite and feta the saltiness to balance it all out. Pine nuts add crunch and all together these quiches make the ideal summer meal. Your favorite standard savory pastry crust is a very good backdrop for the filling but a puff pastry crust, buttery, flavorful, adds a decadent twist.
- One savory (unsweetened) pie crust recipe -OR- ½ pound/250 grams (for 6) to 1 pound/500 grams (for 12) puff pastry
- (make 6 then refrigerate the rest of the batter for a day or two for a new batch with different flavors)
- 3 large eggs (for 6 quiches use 2 large egg)
- 1 cup heavy cream, light cream or part cream/part milk (for 6 quiche use ½ cup cream)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dash nutmeg
- Cherry tomatoes (2 or 3 per quiche)
- Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper
- 3 ½ oz (100 g) feta cheese, coarsely crumbled or chopped (for 6 quiches)
- Handful of rocket (arugula, rucola, roquette), coarsely chopped
- Handful pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the individual quiche tins on a baking sheet.
- Stir together 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar in a glass baking dish or pie plate. Season with a little salt and pepper and add 2 peeled and crushed garlic cloves. Toss the cherry tomatoes into the flavored oil and roast for about 20 minutes or until the skins are split and shriveled and the tomatoes start to show signs of roasting (a bit golden). Remove from the oven and allow to cool while preparing the rest.
- Roll out the dough on a floured work surface and line the tins, gently lifting in and pressing down the dough. Trim the edges. Place the dough-lined tins on a large baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to fill and bake. This can also be done ahead of time.
- Measure out the cream or cream/milk in a large measuring cup then whisk in the eggs until well blended. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Doing this in a measuring cup or glass with a spout or pouring lip is ideal for pouring into individual or mini quiche/tartlet tins avoiding a mess.
- Sprinkle a layer of chopped rocket (arugula, rucola, roquette) then chopped or crumbled feta into each of the tartlet shells. Not too much as each is an overpowering flavor. Snuggle 2 or 3 roasted cherry tomatoes into the rocket and feta in each shell.
- Whisk the quiche batter so it is blended and pour carefully into the shells on top of the rocket and feta, pouring around the cherry tomatoes to keep the tops of the tomatoes batter free. Fill up each shell only about ⅔ or ¾ full as it puffs up and rises as it bakes.
- Sprinkle each quiche with pine nuts.
- Slide the whole baking tray with the filled quiche tins into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the filling is puffed up and set. The top – or at least the edges – should be a deep golden color.