For the Love of Pecans: Zucchini and Spinach Quiche, Jamie Schler

For the Love of Pecans: Zucchini and Spinach Quiche, Jamie Schler

Healthy Directions: Zucchini  and  Spinach  Quiche  with  Orange,  Dates,  Feta,  and  Thyme, Jamie Schler
By Stephanie Burt

Writer Jamie Schler knows a thing or two about making life (and food) an adventure. She grew up on the Space Coast of Florida -- which inspired the writing of her Orange Appeal cookbook  --  but these days runs a hotel with her husband in France. And although she lives in the land of eclairs, she finds inspiration and ritual is vital to keeping things healthy. “My family and I have always eaten our three meals together, at the table, at regular times every day; we avoid grabbing something randomly and eating on the run,” she says. “I think this is very important when thinking about health; it means we eat thoughtfully, take our time, and are enjoying each others' company, which is good for both mind and body. And we always have fresh fruit with each meal in place of dessert.”Sometimes, eating healthy means turning adventurous. It can mean trying new ingredients (quinoa, anyone?), finding a new way to amend an old favorite to be more healthy, or, as is the case here, trying a whole new flavor combination that surprises.

However, when she was developing this recipe, even her husband was skeptical about the sweet meeting the savory in such a traditional dish. “I think we expect something acidic like citrus will turn the cream or clash with its delicateness, but it doesn't at all. In fact, the cream seems to mellow the orange flavor and temper the acidity and you almost find a hint of Creamsicle. But replacing some of the cream in the quiche batter for a savory recipe was more daring, a real experiment, and I (and my husband who really was the Doubting Thomas) was astonished at how delicious it was!”

As for the pecans, she and her family often incorporate nuts into their diet, so reaching for them was easy here. “When a dish or dessert feels flat, like it's missing some pizzazz, I'll add nuts! That's just how nuts ended up being a feature in my quiche recipe, and I'm really happy knowing that I'm adding a really healthy ingredient on top of the flavor and crunch,” she explains.

This is truly a main dish, one-slice-per-person-is-plenty recipe, and it’s packed with good ingredients, from iron-heavy spinach to vitamin rich dates to feta, one of the healthiest cheeses, so those of you eyeing the cream in this recipe, remember, good health is all about balance. Feel free to replace some of it with milk (see the recipe below), but avoid nut milks or other cow milk substitutes, as they aren’t a good alternative here. What is, good, however, is that this dish works as a filling main dish for a festive brunch for all -- vegetarian or not, and with its unusual combination of flavors, will spark some conversation too.

Zucchini and Spinach Quiche with Orange, Dates, Feta, and Thyme
Serves 8 to 10

Orange Savory Pastry Crust
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 small or medium orange, finely zested
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
4 to 6 tablespoons cold orange juice or water
10 x 1 ½ -inch (24 x 2.5 cm) deep pie or quiche dish

  1. Place the flour, salt, and zest in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the butter, tossing to coat with flour. Using the tips of your fingers and thumbs, rub the butter and flour together rapidly until the mixture is crumbly and resembles damp sand and the zest is no longer clumped but well dispersed. Do not overwork.
  3. Add 4 tablespoons of juice and blend vigorously with a fork until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough begins to pull together into a shaggy ball, adding more liquid only as needed.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. With the heel of 1 hand, rapidly smear and push the dough onto the surface away from you to completely blend the butter and the flour together.
  5. Scrape the dough up and gather it into a ball. Knead gently and briefly, just enough to make a smooth, homogeneous ball of dough.
  6. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to roll out easily, about 15 minutes.
  7. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out into a circle about 1 inch (2 cm) or so larger than the pie dish.
  8. Gently lift and fit the dough into the dish, trimming off any excess dough from around the edge. Prick the bottom and sides of the dough with a fork and set aside at room temperature while you prepare the filling.

Quiche Filling
1 pound (450 g) slender zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces (60 g) baby spinach
3 1/2 ounces (100 g) feta cheese
6 Medjool dates
1 cup bite-size orange cubes
1/4 cup (65 ml) orange juice
3/4 cup (185 ml) heavy or light cream,or half cream and half whole milk
3 large eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons chopped pecans

  1. Set your oven on the grill/broiler setting and place the rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Wash and trim the zucchini; cut each in half and then cut each half into long 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  3. Lay the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush each lightly with oil, and place in the oven for 10–15 minutes, until fork tender. Remove from the oven to cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  5. Snap off and discard any sharp or tough stems from the spinach and coarsely chop the leaves. Crumble the feta. Slice the dates into 4 to 5 pieces each, discarding the pits.
  6. Evenly spread the spinach, feta, zucchini, dates, and orange cubes in the prepared pie dish.
  7. Whisk together the orange juice, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, and zest and pour into the dish.
  8. Scatter the pecans evenly over the filling. Bake for 1 hour, or until the filling is puffed, set in the center, and beginning to turn golden and the pastry shell is a nice golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving.



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