During his adolescent years my father lived with his grandfather, a chef who worked at the historic Drake Hotel atop Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. He learned the tricks of the cooking trade largely from him; the 101 basics, plus all the trimmings.
When it came to my mother’s cooking skills, I always figured that she naturally took up Western-style cooking when she moved to the states from Japan in the mid-70s.
I was mistaken.
Years ago during one of my visits back home, I was helping my mom with some spring cleaning. We were in the middle of tackling her book collection when I came across a large, dusty, white book that looked to be several decades old.
“The Joy of Cooking,” I read aloud. “Mom. Do you still need this?”
My mom look at me in horror. “This is not garbage,” she said to me crossly.
That was the day I learned about the importance of a good cook book. The Joy of Cooking apparently taught my mother the basics of Western cooking, from rouxs to pie crusts, from sauces to stocks.
That was also the day I listened to my mother reminisce about how she and my father spent many an evening together cooking under the guidance of this book. How very romantic, right?!
The Joy of Cooking didn’t make the Goodwill donation cut that day. And I’m so glad it’s still in her possession.
I was pretty young back then, and certainly not cooking at the level I do today. Years later, when it was my turn to begin taking my cooking seriously, I decided that just as my parents did, I needed my cook book.
Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is mine. My husband bought me the two-volume book for my birthday a few years back. I adore it. And while I haven’t been through it to the extent that my mother has hers, I’m getting there.
One of my favourite sections of this book is Julia’s quiche chapter. I love quiche. And I love how Julia keeps it simple. Her leek quiche is a hit in this house. I make this dish with few changes from the original.
Start off by rinsing and chopping a few leeks. Beware: for those who have not cooked with leeks before, it is SO important to rinse your leeks AFTER you cut them. The last thing you want to taste after hours making a dish is the grainy disappointment of dirt.
Once clean, put the leeks in a pan with a bit of water, butter, and a generous amount of salt. Sauté until well cooked. Set aside to cool.
In the meantime, shred your Gruyere cheese, make sure your eggs are at room temperature, measure your whipping cream, and of course, get your partially cooked pie crust ready. Home-made or store bought – you can’t go wrong.
Once your oven is hot, whisk the eggs and cream in a bowl, add the leeks and cheese, and balance out the flavours with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg. Done.
Julia’s original recipe calls for small dollops of butter on the top. I forgo these to make it slightly healthier. But do as you will.
Bake in the oven until nicely browned, cool for a few minutes, and dig in.
There you have it. Julia’s leek quiche. Simple, to the point, and absolutely delicious. Serve with a simple side salad and a nice glass of chilled white wine.
*copied directly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1
- 1 pound (about 3.5 cups) sliced white of leek
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 eggs (room temperature)
- 1.5 cups whipping cream
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 8-inch partially cooked pastry shell on a baking sheet
- 1/4 cup Swiss cheese
- 1 tbsp butter cut into pea-sized dots
- Set oven to 190C/ 375F.
- Boil the leeks over moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed, covered saucepan with the water, salt and butter until liquid has almost evaporated.
- Lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until leeks are very tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Beat the eggs, cream and seasonings in a mixing bowl. Gradually stir in leeks. Check seasonings.
- Pour into pastry shell. Spread on the cheese and the distribute butter over it.
- Bake in upper third of preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until puffed and brown.