“I think we have all the essence of summer in our fridge,” I said to A earlier this week. He was unimpressed, but I’ve spent the last several days musing on the almost sacred combination of eggplants, sweet peppers, corn, summer squash, and fresh herbs.
I think we all have a dish or two that requires ingredients of such seasonality that we look forward to it all year, make it once or twice, and then before we know it the season is over. For me, eggplants and red peppers are never around long enough. I make the first baba ganoush of the summer with such fanfare that you’d think it were a much fancier and more complicated affair. Before September is over each year, I roast a pile of red peppers, peel them, freeze them individually, and pack them away carefully into Ziploc bags to be doled out judiciously into winter’s stews and casseroles.
But one of my goals for this year has been to not let any fruit or vegetable pass me by; to take note of each food’s coming and going, and to appreciate it fully while it is here. So at the farmers market this past weekend, I was driven by forces stronger than myself to collect a rainbow of summer produce, not knowing towards what end.
It simply wouldn’t do to merely cook these vegetables individually throughout the week; a steamed ear of corn here, a sauteed zucchini there, a sprinkling of basil in a tomato salad. No; a full and honest celebration of the late summer bounty required that the vegetables be married in one dish. There were obvious choices: ratatouille, various summer vegetable tarts, with pesto or without. But I wanted something a little out of the ordinary, and more importantly, something that didn’t rely on tomatoes, since A is, while not perhaps their nemesis, certainly not a fan.
I settled on that most manly of dishes, the quiche. A superbly crumbly crust of whole wheat and cornmeal provided a deep, nutty foundation for the tender eggplant and zucchini. A hint of garlic and basil upped the summer quotient exponentially, merely suggesting pesto when combined with a dusting of Pecorino Romano.
For a brief moment I wondered if adding a garnish would be gilding the lily–then thankfully dispensed with that notion in favor of imitating nature. If bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini all ripen at the same time, alongside nodding stems of basil and parsley, then surely we are meant to eat them together.
A gremolata is a chopped garnish with a base of lemon and parsley, and here I’ve relegated those flavors to the background and focused on the sweet acidity of roasted yellow and red peppers. A spoonful of capers helps the gremolata cut through the rich quiche filling. I think this would also pair wonderfully with a lightly flavored fish such as halibut, or spooned over some whole roasted tomatoes. Just don’t try feeding one to A.
This crust is more delicate than a typical pie dough because it contains no white flour; the sharp edges on the cornmeal and the wheat bran inhibit gluten formation, which means the dough will tear more easily. If pie dough makes you uncomfortable to begin with, use a traditional white flour recipe instead, like this one.
Eggplant Zucchini Quiche
1/2 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 T cold butter, cubed
3-4 T ice water
1 red onion, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 medium zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T chopped basil
1/3 C grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
½ C whole milk
½ t salt
Preheat oven to 375° and lightly oil a 9″ pie pan.
To make the crust, combine the cornmeal, whole wheat flour, and salt in a large bowl. With a fork or pastry cutter, cut in butter until well mixed and crumbly. Add ice water one tablespoonful at a time, using the fork to mix in. The amount of water you need will vary depending on the absorbency of your cornmeal and flour. When dough just comes together, pat into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill at least 15 minutes.
On a lightly oiled surface, roll out the dough to ¼” thickness. Carefully use the rolling pin to lift the dough onto the pie pan. Press into the pan and patch any cracks with extra dough. Finish the edges as you like; I tend to leave my savory pie crusts rustic and unfinished.
Bake the crust for 12-15 minutes to dry it out. Make sure to remove it from the oven before the bottom begins to puff.
To make the filling, begin by sauteing the onions in a pan big enough to fit all the vegetables. Start off with more oil than you would normally use, as the zucchini and eggplant will soak it up. When the onions are softened, after about 5 minutes, add the eggplant, zucchini, and garlic. Stir well to combine and saute until the vegetables are just tender. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the basil and half of the cheese. Let cool slightly.
In a small bowl, combine the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Spread the vegetable mixture evenly over the pie crust. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and top with the remaining cheese. Bake at 375° for 30-40 minutes, until top is golden and puffed.
Roasted Pepper Gremolata
1 small yellow bell pepper
1 small red bell pepper
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 T capers
2 t parsley, minced
Roast peppers over an open flame on the stovetop or under the broiler. Turn occasionally to blacken and blister on all sides. Once blackened and soft, place peppers in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel. Seal the bag to let them steam. When cool enough to handle, peel, core, and chop finely.
Combine chopped peppers with lemon zest, capers, and parsley in a small bowl, and serve a spoonful with each slice of quiche.