Saturday, September 18, 2010

Frittatas Are The New Sandwich

Thank god for a frittata. Until recently, my frittatas were whimsical and almost always centered around a breakfast milieu. Then, I became the organizer of the Egg Club at work. Every Tuesday, Mark from Farms comes and delivers eggs to about 20-odd customers. My reward for receiving, paying out and distributing the eggs is a free dozen each week. Some weeks, the eggs are gone fast; a baking project or a deviled egg plate will make quick work out of 12 eggs. But generally I have a surplus of organic, pasture-raised chicken eggs on hand and frittatas have become a way of life.

In the early summer when I was on the East Coast, I shared an incredible sandwich with my friend Kelly at Saltie in Williamsburg that basically changed my position on potatoes (previously: indifferent). It was a thick piece of oily focaccia, halved crosswise, sandwiching a Spanish tortilla, slathered in a romesco/aioli concoction. Eggs+potatoes+bread+condiment=a lunch to remember. As my understanding goes, fritattas and tortillas cousins from Italy and Spain, respectively. Both are deep-dish omelets, though fritattas are deeper and may contain a kitchen-sink list of ingredients including meats and leftover pasta. Tortillas, I believe, are strictly potatoes and onions. I have yet to make a tortilla because, frankly, I think there's too much technique involved for my patience at the moment, and I usually have too many ingredients on hand to allow me the luxury of focusing only on potatoes. Frittatas, or at least the ones I make, are versatile and forgiving. The filling-to-egg ratio is never the same twice, the stovetop-to-oven times will vary, but I always end up with a dish that can cover breakfast and/or lunch and/or dinner and/or standing in front of the fridge looking for something to eat.

I cannot tell you how to make a frittata, I can only tell you how I make mine. I start with a 6" seasoned cast iron pan. It can feed one to four people, depending on how many eggs you're using and what else you're serving (a lettuce salad is always a good idea). I pour a good measure of olive oil in the pan and give it medium heat. Soften some onions or leeks (1/4-1/3 cup) and slowly add the rest of your ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go: sliced or diced cooked potatoes, sweet bell peppers, cooked greens, steamed broccoli, pancetta, smoked trout, etc... I've never measured the volume, I just use common sense. It hasn't failed me yet. It's not a good idea to rush any part of this. Keep the heat low and let the filling ingredients cook slowly. Whisk your eggs in a bowl (3-5 eggs, depending on how much filling) and instead of adding milk as you would with scrambled eggs, add a tablespoon or so of water. I don't know why I started doing this but I believe it adds a little volume. Add a pinch of salt and if you're using cheese, incorporate it and/or fresh herbs into the eggs. Pour into your pan and take this one opportunity to quickly and gently incorporate the eggs with the filling. Not too much though. Then, turn the heat to low and let it cook. This is when I turn on the oven to 350 and clean up the kitchen, or take a shower, or (sigh) check facebook. If you keep the heat low, this frittata can stay on the stove for up to 20 minutes. What I love most about frittatas is how much time they buy me to do other things while they cook. Occasionally tilt the pan and release the edges of the omelet with a dull knife, letting the uncooked eggs occupy the vacancy on the sides. When there is still some uncooked egg in the center but it's too viscous to move, place it in the oven: center rack. Then, turn the oven off. Then, turn on the broiler. The radiant heat of the oven will continue to cook the frittata from its peripheries, and the broiler will, well, broil. Don't burn it, just let it finish cooking and give it some burnish if you wish. The frittata is done, but I prefer to let it cool significantly. I don't think there's any better way to eat one than at room temperature, with a salad or in this case, an heirloom tomato and basil salsa. The pic below pretty much sums up the all too short summer and getting up with the early light just so that I have more time to do nothing in particular.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day Visit

Labor Day weekend I was visited by my mom Betsy and her husband David on the tail end of their RV trip cross country. They left Florida back in July, drove across the states and into Canada, over to Alaska, back to Canada and then down through the Pacific Northwest. I have to say that they make the prospect of retirement look somewhat appealing, provided you can share every waking moment with someone in a confined space with zeal, which naturally, I could not. I am instead looking forward to sharing my twilight years in a barn with all the cats and dogs the County will let me legally possess--provided the barn is up to code.

On Monday evening I prepared a somewhat eclectic mixed grill featuring lamb ribs and grilled pouisson. I decided to do a rub on the ribs and because I never remember to write anything down, I just took a photo:
Clockwise from top: nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, coriander, chiles and a couple of clove right in the center. I toasted everything just till the coriander started to pop (no idea, really, if this is blasphemous in the world of curries and rubs) and ground down with a good measure of salt, then rubbed them on my lamb ribs and let it all sit for the better part of a day. Later, I put the ribs in a shallow baking pan with about 1/2 cup of water and cooked them, covered tightly, in a 325 oven for 1 1/2 hours. Which was how long I needed to figure out what to do for a glaze. Had there been some pomegranate molasses in the pantry I'm sure I would have tried something, but instead I made a simple sauce of honey, yogurt, lemon juice and, at the last minute, preserved lemons.

I tossed the cooked ribs in this and then finished them on the grill, which, incidentally, was being occupied by my spatchcocked pouissons. The birds had been seasoned with salt in the morning and spent about an hour marinating in black pepper, garam masala, yogurt and some other stuff (this, I did not capture on camera). I also smoked a small eggplant that became a puree with walnuts, cilantro and yogurt (yes, I bought a huge thing of yogurt at the store earlier that day, ok?). I don't remember eating it, but was told that it was good by my mother, who I can recall licking the bowl while making inappropriate noises.
We also had a bi-colored (purple and red) potato and yellow bean salad dressed in a mustard vinaigrette and a simple cucumber and dill salad (cucumber, dill, white vinegar, sugar, salt, yum). Betsy ate everyone's bones, as is customary. We all had a bit too much to drink and the night ended with mom dancing to Pet Sounds and lamenting that she was born to dance, although she had been too much of a nerd to ever listen to Elvis, or the Beach Boys or the Beatles. But now that she's hearing songs like "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" in fitness class, for the first time, perhaps there is some hope.