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When chives and asparagus begin to poke themselves up through the still-cool earth of your garden, you know that spring has really arrived. Although you can't beat asparagus unadorned (even raw for that matter), here it is in pastry, a taste of spring fit for a country king. For those of you lucky enough to have found the elusive hiding place of the fiddlehead* (look in a damp, cool place in the forest), try them in the same recipe to win the heart of a woodland king.
Using the smaller amount of egg in the custard will yield a more tender filling; the larger amount makes a quiche that will can be sliced and served more easily.
1 single recipe Oil Pie Crust or any unbaked pie shell
Filling 2 1/2 cups of sliced asparagus or fiddleheads*
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh chopped chives
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated cheese (anything goes here but an aged Swiss, Parmesan, Asiago or a combination is good)
3 to 4 large eggs
3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
and 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk (tart, rich and non-fattening)
For the crust: After shaping, prebake your pie crust for 10 minutes at 425°F. When you take the pie shell out of the oven, turn the heat down to 375°F.
For the filling: While the pie crust bakes, cut your asparagus into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal, which enables them to be crisp and tender at the same time.
Mince the chives and set aside. Beat together the eggs, flour and buttermilk.
Pour a bit of custard on the bottom of the prebaked crust to seal it and keep juices from soaking in. Over that, sprinkle in the asparagus and chives, saving out some asparagus tips to decorate the top. Sprinkle the cheese over that. Pour the remainder of the custard over the whole thing and place asparagus tips, in spoke fashion, around the outside edge. This makes a nice garnish.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the custard is firm and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
*Look in May near a stream or a damp shady place in the woods for the fiddlehead of the Pteretis Nodulosa, or Ostrich fern. There isn't anything quite as delectable, something halfway between asparagus and artichoke hearts.
Fiddleheads appear as green bumps in clumps, covered with a brown scaly paper somewhat like onion skin, below the brown stalks of last year's ferns. Snap off one or two of the fiddleheads in each clump when they are not more than 3 or 4 inches high. They need to be well-rinsed and cleaned (the brown papery covering is bitter). Cook them in fresh water until you can just pierce them with a fork, drain and rinse. Then proceed as for asparagus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 6, May 1991 issue.