When considering quick and wholesome main dishes, I would like to give a heavy nod to the quiche. Quiche is notoriously considered a feminine food, and has the reputation of being fussy and difficult to prepare, but neither of those accusations are well-deserved. Quiche is simply good balanced food with both protein and vegetables peaceably commingling with carbohydrates. It is easily vegetarian, but can be fortified with meat if desired and it can be on the table in less than 15 minutes of active work if you have leftovers to use creatively. And, in my opinion, nearly anything can become inherently masculine with the addition of bacon.
But what about that crust-making problem preventing quiche from entering the quick dinner status?
A couple months ago, I read about this very decadent kale quiche on Serious Eats. I ran immediately to the store and I bought a small wedge of Gruyere, then I made it as written and savored every creamy, kale laden bite for dinners and lunches. The most remarkable thing about that recipe (written by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt) was that it was marvelously crust-less! Two slices of fresh bread torn into ragged breadcrumbs by the sharp teeth of a food processor go down in a pie plate as a bottom layer, and in an instant, easy quiche is born without any bother of making a proper crust. Plain bread can stand in for crust in any variation on the classic quiche – which at this stage of the game seems more like a strata to me.
Historically, the strata is defined as a dish served for breakfast and is layered with either sweet or savory fillings including slices of bread or thick cut cubes of bread. It is essentially billed as a bread pudding with more custard than bread - and the use of fresh bread crumbs as a layering ingredient in quiche leads me to think this dish needs a new name, and a new place in your kitchen for any meal of the day due to the time it saves.
I made this Strata-Quiche with beautiful, in-season asparagus that I tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted at 350 in my tiny toaster oven for 15 minutes while I seared the portabello mushroom (it was the size of my hand) slices in a cast iron skillet to draw out the moisture. You could certainly substitute any vegetables and add in any number of popular quiche-like ingredients like tomatoes, spinach, leeks or red bell peppers. Remember that often the best flavors for dishes like this may already be lurking in your fridge disguised as leftovers. Mindfully consider a good cheese and fresh herb paring, and you are in business.
Asparagus, Portabello and Smoked Cheddar Strata-Quiche
1 9-inch pie, see note below if using a straight sided quiche pan
1-2 slices of crusty, sourdough type bread, crust removed and made into fresh breadcrumbs
2 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
10 spears of thin asparagus, roasted (or leftover)
1 large portabello mushroom, sliced and seared
2 T. chives, chopped
1 c. milk (I used whole, but any milkfat is fine)
Preheat the oven to 375.
Layer the breadcrumbs, cheese, asparagus, mushrooms and chives in a buttered 9-inch, round glass baking dish in the order listed. In a small bowl or measuring cup, beat the eggs with the milk. Pour over the top of the layered dish. Dust with aleppo pepper.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a thin knife inserted near the middle comes out clean. The dish will continue to set up as it cools. You can serve it hot, warm or room temperature, but let it cool at least 10 minutes before slicing, so you get nice, even slices.
**Notes: If you are using a larger baking dish (one with straight sides), or if you have more fillings and need more custard to cover, use a custard ratio of 4 eggs to 1 1/2 c. milk. If you don't have a food processor, you can chop the bread with a knife into smallish crumbs, or pulse in a blender. You can make the crumbs as rustic as you like.
One benefit of a dish like this is the supreme joy of leftovers. Cold quiche (or now, appropriately named Quiche-Strata) packs extremely well for lunches on the go. Even though (meatless) pie dinners like this don't go over well with the boys in my household, I still make them just for me since they will hold well for three or four days and I can just as easily eat a slice for breakfast as I can for an afternoon snack. Put a slice on top of some field greens, and your plate is balanced nutritionally and visually, and with any imagination at all, you have a world of new dinner options open to you!