When you want to mystify people as to the herb used in a dish, try lavender: it will almost always confound, says Maggie Oster, a gardening and cooking expert who divides her time between Palmyra, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. The bittersweet flavor of lavender flowers enhances salads, egg dishes, soups, or desserts. They retain their flavor well when dried.
• 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell (below)
• 1 1/4 cups grated gruyère, emmenthaler, or swiss cheese, divided
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon canola oil
• 12 ounces leeks, cut into 1/2-inch slices
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper and add 1/2 inch or so of pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes; remove the weights and parchment, reduce the heat to 325°F, and bake 8 minutes longer, or until the bottom is dry. Sprinkle 1/4 cup grated cheese over the bottom of the crust and bake 5 minutes longer, or until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and cool.
2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the butter and oil until the foaming subsides. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until they are soft. Stir in the thyme and sauté for 2 minutes, or until it is fragrant. Stir in the wine, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until the liquid is gone. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cream, lavender, remaining grated cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Stir in the cooled leek mixture. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is just set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Single-Crust Pie Shell
• 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
• 3–4 tablespoons water
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the shortening and, working quickly with your fingertips, two knives, or a pastry blender, blend the ingredients until you have bread-crumb-size bits and tiny, uneven flakes.
2. Sprinkle on the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, gently stirring with a fork after each addition. Add only enough water to form a rough mass. The dough may be rolled out immediately or wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for as long as 2 days before rolling.
3. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle 1/8 inch thick. Fold the dough in quarters and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan. Unfold and trim or pat the edges to fit.
Adapted from a recipe in The Herbal Palate, by Sal Gilbertie and Maggie Oster (Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, 1996).
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