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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Feeding the Muse: Living Well on a Writer’s Budget

Recipe • The Fantastic Frittata • by Karen Bethke

The frittata is a traditional Italian egg-based dish, and it’s basically either a quiche without the crust or an omelet without the fuss. I love to make them because they’re simple, easy, delicious, can be very low-carb, and I’ve never really gotten the hang of folding an omelet without turning it into a mess. Frittatas can be served hot for breakfast, or refrigerated and served later as you would a quiche, and they have the added bonus of being a great way to re-purpose pretty much any leftover meat or vegetables you have in the fridge into a tasty dish that goes from fridge to table in less than half an hour and looks like it was a lot more work to make than it really was.

Before you begin
Since a frittata starts on the stove-top and then goes into the oven or broiler, to make a frittata, you must use a skillet that is oven-safe. You can use pretty much any metal-handled stainless steel skillet (not Teflon!), but at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, my favorite frittata pan is a red copper knock-off we bought at Menard’s for about seven dollars. It has a metal handle, which makes it oven-safe, the copper ceramic non-stick coating, which really does work as long as you don’t scratch it, and a rounded bottom shape that makes it a breeze to clean with just hot soapy water and a stiff kitchen brush, even when what I’m cooking in it gets a little scorched.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3rd cup some kind of animal protein, pre-cooked
  • 1/3rd cup diced sweet onion
  • 1/3rd cup diced bell pepper
  • 1/3rd cup grated or diced cheese
  • one leftover baked potato
  • 4 to 5 large eggs
  • black pepper to taste
To be honest, all these measurements are approximate and all the ingredients except the eggs and the olive oil are optional, improvisational, and depend entirely on what I happen to have on hand. If we made pizza the night before and have leftover crumbled Italian sausage, I’ll make a frittata with Italian sausage and Parmesan or mozzarella cheese. If we made tacos the night before and have leftover seasoned and cooked taco meat, I’ll make a frittata with taco meat and cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. If I have leftover baked or fried potatoes, I might dice some up and throw them in, but if I don’t, or I’m trying to make a low-carb meal, I’ll skip the potatoes. You can use almost any vegetable in place of the onions and peppers; for example, you can skip the meat, onions, and peppers entirely and make a really nice vegetarian frittata with zucchini, or leftover roasted cherry tomatoes and asparagus.

In this case, I just happen to have some leftover ham from last Sunday, so I’m making a sort of Denver frittata with Maui Sweet onion, red bell pepper (they were on sale), no potatoes, and Gouda cheese.

Getting Started
Since I don’t trust my broiler, I’m going to start this thing on the stove and finish it in the oven. So I begin by pre-heating the oven to 450°, and then I put the skillet on the stove over a medium-high flame and put in a generous dollop of olive oil. The 2 tbsp listed in the recipe is approximate; my momma teacha me to cook by sight, feel, and smell. You want enough oil in the pan to sauté the vegetables, but not so much that you deep-fry them, and you want to be careful not to overcook or burn them. Once the pan is up to temperature, I dice up the onion and throw it into the oil, and while the onion is cooking I dice up the pepper and add it, same for the ham, and then I reduce the heat and just let the whole thing sauté and cook down while I’m cracking the eggs into a mixing bowl.

Some people like to add a little milk to eggs before whisking them, but I don’t. I use a fork to puncture the yolks and then whip them thoroughly, grind about 1/4 tsp of black pepper and toss it in with the eggs, and then toss in the shredded cheese and mix it thoroughly again.

When the meat/veg mix in the skillet is cooked through, I make sure the top of the meat/veg mix is level in the pan, and then pour in the egg/cheese mix, taking care to make sure everything is pretty much submerged in egg and covered.

The tricky part
This is the hard part: you have to be patient. Cook the mix in the skillet over a low flame until the edges have set. Test it with a fork. When you can lift the edge of the frittata away from the side of the pan, it’s ready to go into the oven.

Put the skillet into the oven. If you’re using the broiler, put it on the top rack, otherwise use the middle rack. How long it stays in the oven depends on whether you’re baking or broiling it; in either case, you want to cook it until it sets up solidly, the edges begin to lift away from the sides of the skillet, and the top is just starting to get that nice toasty lightly browned look. Check often to make sure you catch it before it begins to burn. In the oven, it usually takes from 10 to 15 minutes to go from set at the edges but liquid in the center to completely done.

Once the frittata is done, pull it out of the oven, turn the oven off, and then contemplate your next move. If you really want to make a big production out of it (and you used just enough olive oil) you should be able to slide the whole thing out of the skillet and onto a serving platter, but I like to put a trivet on the table and serve it right from the skillet. Usually I quarter it in the pan—carefully, you don’t want to scratch the pan!—and then lift the pieces out with a spatula. Sometimes, depending on what went into it, a frittata is really terrific with a spoonful of salsa or a few dashes of green Cholula sauce, but most of the time, it doesn’t even need salt or pepper.

Bon appetit!

Karen Bethke is a wife, mother, grandmother, and 8-year cancer patient. The product of many generations of Italian family cooking, she’s now on a mission to create low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, and just generally healthier meals that still taste great.

Karen’s sole publication credit is as co-author of “From Castle Dracule to Merlotte’s Bar & Grill” in A Taste of True Blood, but behind the scenes, she’s the real driving force behind Rampant Loon Press.

1 comment:

Eric Dontigney said...

This post makes my usual breakfast -- oatmeal with dried cranberries tossed in -- seem like meager fare indeed.