For many, there are certain foods that bring back lovely memories from childhood. I am lucky to be in that group. There are specific dishes that not only serve as culinary time capsules, but also provide sustenance and comfort in their preparation and consumption. One of my favorites from childhood, and now a staple in adulthood, is green chile cheese quiche.
When I think of this food, I also remember a funny quote from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally. In a scene where Harry and Sally are quite solid in their friendship, Jess, who is Harry’s best friend, immediately hits it off with Sally’s best friend. The line he rattles off is, “Pesto is the quiche of the 80s.” So I guess quiche was a big deal in the 70s. Anyway, it has been a staple of my life now well into the 21st century.
I am not sure where the recipe originated. I just have very clear memories of a tattered and food-mottled index card with my mother’s familiar, loopy handwriting. I have made carefully written out several copies of that recipe to give to friends or when someone asked me for one of my favorite foods. I mostly have the recipe memorized at this point and with that time-worn familiarity, make adjustments based on my cravings, ingredients, or dietary needs of my dinner guests.
I can imagine that hipsters might “ironcially” love this dish and I can bet that foodies decry the use of so much cheese and my omission of bacon. It’s one of the recipes that transitioned well from childhood into limited cooking capacity in college (mostly due to a lack of a fully equipped kitchen, not due to the lack for a passion to cook) and then further into my strict vegetarianism (note, I didn’t say vegan) that lasted for all of college well into my late twenties.
Growing up, this dish was in my mother’s almost weekly regular repertoire and I see how convenient and filling this recipe was when she was a homemaker with three growing girls and a husband who worked long hours and also how easy it was to use when she was a busy and harried high school home ec teacher still determined to put homemade food on the dinner table.
What I love most about this quiche is its versatility. It works great for a weeknight meal, paired with a salad and a simple roasted vegetable as a side. It transitions well into leftovers, either cold right out of the fridge, or zapped for less than a minute in the microwave, or served room temperature when left out on the stove top on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is also tasty as a brunch or breakfast option.
The recipe calls for a bottom pie crust, the only kind I can make. Somehow, when I put my homemade top crust on a pie, it tends to fall apart, or I lack the knack for making it look pretty. I love making pie crusts from scratch and find it soothing to roll out the dough and slowly press it into place in a pie pan or one of my grandmother’s glass Pyrex pie dishes. I will admit, though, when in a hurry, or just being lazy, I will reach for the grocery store freezer option of a pre-made pie crust. Since often two crusts come together, it gives me the freezer choice to make two quiches or to save one pie crust for later.
Last Sunday, I wanted to bake and a windy, chilly winter afternoon only contributed to the mood. I put my favorite Duke Ellington on the CD player and headed into the kitchen. I reached into the back of my small freezer and found the second pie crust from a package that I had opened a few weeks ago. Out of the refrigerator, I assembled the rest of the ingredients. One of the other joys of this recipe is that it calls for my kitchen staple resources, things that I have on-hand even if I haven’t been to the grocery store in a couple of weeks.
My mother’s recipe card calls for a couple different kinds of cheese, totaling about a cup and a half. Mostly I go with less cheese, but I wing it each time I make it. I often just go with what I have on hand, usually sharp cheddar, but occasionally weird choices that only add to the flavor palate. My other favorite part of this recipe is that all the mixing and preparation happens inside the pie crust, so very few dishes are dirtied or used once you have the pie crust, either store bought or laboriously handmade. So, you dump cheese, a bit of milk, a scant bit of flour (as thickener) and stir right into the pie crust. Then I add green chile. My mom’s recipe always called for a small can of diced green chile, but since we moved to northern New Mexico before I started junior high, green chile was in our freezer always. Even in the many years I lived in the Midwest and Colorado, I almost always found a way to get fresh green chile into my freezer to last for the year. You can take the girl out of New Mexico, but you can’t take green chile from her freezer.
Now that I am back in New Mexico, it makes me laugh to think of the efforts to get green chile into my freezer in Minnesota (think airplane carry-on, and substantial amounts of dry ice in care packages sent by my mother and handled by the postal service) or fall weekend trips to New Mexico to get the good stuff in the decade I lived in Colorado. One Minnesota winter, when I needed a new-but-used-automobile, after a car-totaling accident, it was the good excuse to buy the car from my stepfather, also a car dealer, but the major deciding factor was a huge trunk filled with dry ice and green chile. I can think of many years that I drove up and down the very familiar stretch of Interstate-25 in a day or two to get a bushel or more of fresh green chile roasted and then several hours putting small amounts of said roasted green chile into sandwich-sized heavy-duty plastic bags into the freezer. One of my favorite weekly kitchen rituals is to reach into the freezer and grab two or three small plastic bags full of green chile and place into a bowl to thaw in my refrigerator.
Once the green chile is added, crack three eggs right into the pie crust, and stir with a fork to break up the yolks. My mother’s recipe called for the addition of bacon, sometimes she used the artificial bacon bits from salad toppings, but mostly she used the intentional leftovers from breakfast. When I became a strict vegetarian in college and through most of my twenties, I left out the bacon option. Now, while I certainly eat bacon on special occasions (isn’t eating bacon always a special occasion?), I never think to add it to the quiche. The last of the remaining cheese, I sprinkle on the the top of the quiche and then I pop the brimming full pie pan into a preheated oven at 375 F for approximately 20-30 minutes. In the summer, when I make quiche, I bake it super early in the morning or in the middle of the night, so that the hot oven doesn’t heat up an already steamy July day.
This past Sunday, my house was clean and all my chores were done, so I slid the quiche into the oven, set the kitchen timer, and quickly washed the few dishes in the sink from an early breakfast and the quiche prep, then hopped into the shower. I reveled in the hot water, but quickly washed my hair, and shaved my legs. I didn’t want the shower to end, but mindful of my water consumption and also the cooking quiche, I dried off and pulled on a cozy grey sweater, thick black socks, and my favorite navy blue patterned pajama pants. I left my newly-installed apartment heater set to off and padded into the kitchen. I made it just as the timer began to beep. I turned off the oven and reached for my red-flowered oven mitt to pull out the quiche, perfectly set and lightly browned, and plopped it onto the stove top. I dumped almost half a bag of fresh arugula greens onto a white dinner plate and poured a glass of my favorite cheap bottle of Malbec. Then I sliced the quiche into 8 pie-triangle-shaped pieces and slid one onto the plate. I grabbed the wine glass with the full dinner plate and a fork from the dish drainer into my fingers and ventured into the living room.
I hit play on the CD player and Duke Ellington played again from the speakers. I sank into the couch and tucked into the quiche and wine. It’s a comfort food, a simple dish that brings me from childhood into adulthood. The simplicity and cheesy goodness are all I need. Sometimes I share with friends and family, but last Sunday, I enjoyed a warm dish on a windy wintry late afternoon all by myself. Independence or company, a green chile quiche accommodates all. I tasted the bite of green chile and sharp cheddar. I tasted home.