If you're ever having a bad day, here's what to do. Buy two yellow onions. Slice them into thin half-moon shapes. Heat some olive oil on medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Slide the sliced onions into the pan. The oil will sizzle and hiss in protest. Grab a worn wooden spoon and stand at the stove. Push the onions around the pan occasionally, watching them slowly turn from white to translucent to golden brown to a dark, caramelized brown sugar color.
This will take about 20 minutes. As you stand there, you'll loosen up. Cooking can be so frenzied when you're chopping frantically as you try to keep an eye on the pasta water, and fry bacon, and pile up dishes in the sink. But done slowly, it is such a meditative ritual. Isolating one task, like caramelizing onions, makes you slow down, focus, and fixate on something other than what's whirling around inside your head.
Caramelized onions are pretty fantastic on their own, but for this recipe, I added a tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar a few minutes before the onions finished cooking. The balsamic thickens and coats the soft onion strands in a syrupy, acidic glaze. You'll mix that with fresh baby spinach, grated cheese, and roasted butternut squash.
Don't feel constrained by my ingredient list: Quiche is a wonderfully flexible dish. As long as you don't add too many ingredients, and keep the egg and milk quantities the same, you can play around with using up whatever you have sitting around. Gruyere or Swiss would be good substitutes for the cheddar, and if you are feeling ravenous, throw a handful or two of cooked grains (like quinoa or barley) into the filling.
I rather like the idea of eating quiche for dinner in what I imagine to be a civilized and Parisian manner: a warm slice of quiche, a pile of lightly dressed greens, and a cold glass of crisp white wine.
Obviously in this fantasy, I am sitting at a sidewalk cafe on a cobblestone street. I am dressed immaculately and effortlessly in cigarette pants, a colorful silk top, and Coco Chanel-esque jewelry. My hair falls in beachy waves, I am casually paging through a worn copy of Proust (super cerebral), and wearing deep red lipstick.
Perhaps that will happen one day (I just booked a flight to Paris, for real!), but in the meantime I'm happy to tell you that this quiche tastes just as good eaten in old pajamas with a glass of milk.
It would taste just as good at a dinner party as it would reheated, eaten with your fingers, after a long day of hiking, or cold for breakfast on your way to work.
Butternut Squash, Spinach & Cheddar Quiche
For the crust:
8 tablespoons butter, very cold
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
For the filling:
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash (very small cubes)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup whole milk
5 large eggs
1 medium yellow onion
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
salt & pepper
To make the crust, whisk together the salt and flour in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter until it is in small, pea-sized lumps. Pour the ice water slowly into the mixture and stir with a fork until it comes together into a shaggy mass. You will have plenty of dry spots still -- that's okay. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it onto itself a few times until it comes together into a cohesive mass. Add water as needed: The dough doesn't need to be perfectly smooth. Shape it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, make the filling. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the onion into very thin half-moons. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they caramelized and turn deep golden brown. This will take about 20 minutes. Right before they finish cooking(judge this by the color), add the balsamic vinegar to the pan and cook for a few more minutes.
Meanwhile, spread the cubed butternut squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toss with the remaining olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast the squash until it starts to brown and soften -- this should take about the same amount of time as the onions.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about 12" in diameter. Transfer the dough to a 9" pie place and crimp the edges. Prick the dough all over with a fork (this will stop it from puffing up) and bake it in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. It should be barely browned.
Remove the crust from the oven and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs. Add the rosemary and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Add the caramelized onions, roasted squash, grated cheese, and baby spinach. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. **Don't overfill! If you find you have too much filling, just leave a little out.**
Bake the quiche at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. The edges should be golden brown and the center should feel just set.