HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!
New Year's Eve is always a very busy time, I guess, especially when you're not gate-crashing someone else's, but hosting your own party. For me, it is doubly so ever since my son was born on the last day in December three years ago - and, unwilling to give up seeing off the old year and welcoming the new in style, I am looking at enjoying more than just one party on New Year's Eve for the rest of my life... or for as long as the little one lets me partake in his celebrations, that is!
And I intend to keep things very much the way it happened on that big day in 2003 - back then we got home in the late afternoon, in time for a sip of champagne... so this year, I also got things over and done with early in the day to be able to sit down and enjoy the evening with friends and family thereafter.
This year was the first time we actually organised a birthday party and of course even inviting only five of his closest friends automatically means 20 guests, with siblings and parents attending as well. Once the kids were fed and the cake cut, we moved on to champagne and finger food for the grown-ups... catering for many a cocktail party over the past few years has given me enough practice to choose little bites of delight that can either be fully prepared in advance or only need minimal effort before serving. This allowed me to enjoy the fun as much as everybody else without resorting to deep-frozen vol-au-vents that all taste the same no matter what the filling...
These mini-quiches are really versatile and only need ten minutes in the oven - I have made them in many different formats, with goats cheese and onion confit, or more hearty, classic fillings like onion & bacon, smoked haddock & leek or sautéed wild mushrooms for a vegetarian alternative... the pastry cases (if you, like me, don't want to buy them ready-made from specialist suppliers) can be prepared even a few days in advance, the filling keeps in the fridge for 24 hours, so the only job on the day is to put the filling in the case, beat some mascarpone with egg yolks and spoon it over - ten minutes in the oven and finish off with onion confit in my case, or a simple scattering of herbs might do... it couldn't be easier to entertain a crowd without slaving away in the kitchen while everybody is out having fun!
Gorgonzola quichettes with red onion & thyme confit
200 g shortcrust pastry* (ready-rolled)
15 g butter
1 medium red onion (peeled and thinkly sliced)
1 heaped tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp thyme leaves
150 g gorgonzola
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp mascarpone (ca. 175 g)
2 tbsp single cream
Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Line 24 mini shallow bun or muffin tins** with shortcrust pastry (I have a non-stick and a silicone mould, so don't need to grease it, but do so if your tin requires it), the dough shouldn't be thicker than 1-2 mm. Cut off surplus dough and smooth round the egdes. Prick with a fork, then line with small pieces of grease-proof paper and fill with baking beans or pulses. Place tray in the oven and blind-bake pastry for 10 minutes, it should be cooked through, but not too brown on the edges. Leave pastry shells to cool, then store in an air-tight container.
For the onion confit, melt the butter in a non-stick pan, fry the onions until browning, then add the sugar and let caramelise. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and cook over a low heat, enough for the onions to soften through and the vinegar to lose its edge. This should take about 15 minutes. Add the thyme leaves and season to taste.
The confit will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
To finish the quichettes, pre-heat oven to 180C.
Beat the egg yolks with the mascarpone and cream, season to taste. Fill the pastry cases with roughly half a teaspoon full of gorgonzola, then top with a teaspoon full of the egg/cream mixture. Make sure the cases are not filled all the way to the top as the filling will rise.
Put into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, until the mixture has set and is browning on top.
Meanwhile, gently warm the onion confit in a pan or the micro-wave to make it easier to handle.
Remove the mini-quiches from the oven and leave to stand for a few minutes. Top with half a teaspoon of onion confit and serve while still warm.
* I have tried several brands over the years and find Jus-Roll frozen shortcrust pastry best, as it is rolled very thinly, max. 2mm, perfect for these mini-quiches. If you can't find this, use any other, but make sure that you flatten the pastry enough in the baking mould so that the case will be holding the filling, rather than become an over-powering flavour component.
** You can usually get trays of 12 in good department stores or specialist cooking shops: alternatively, try amazon or lakelandlimited.