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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Frittatas--and being thankful for eggs




Today I had an egg for lunch.

Nothing spectacular, just a way to balance out the mixture of carrots, onions, peppers, and grated potatoes that were a pepped up version of hash browns--with my seasoned cast iron skillet, I can "fry" this mixture with only a teaspoon of oil, so it's healthier than it sounds. Some plain yogurt on the side and lots of spicy seasoning (and, I must admit, the dash of ketchup that I put on hash browns if I don't have fresh salsa handy), and the meal was complete.

But back to the egg.

At this morning's Toastmaster's meeting, one of our members from Ghana shared a favorite part of her childhood birthday celebrations. There would be a special dish made from yams (sorry, I didn't get the Ghanian name) and then an egg would usually be served on top.

An egg. Just a plain egg. But for her, this was special, because this was a luxury. At other times, if there were eggs to be had, several children would have to share one egg, each getting just a little piece to savor. The joy of having an egg all to yourself was such a special birthday treat that it remains a favorite memory years later and half a world apart.

To prepare today's luncheon egg--and it wasn't even my birthday--I just pushed the vegetables to the side when they were quite brown and crispy, dropped the egg in, turned the burner off, and covered the pan. The heat of the cast iron was just right for cooking the egg tenderly and thoroughly in only a few minutes.

The morning discussion was a good reminder of how blessed we are to have so much available to us. It also reminded me that in this country, eggs are really good choices for frugal meals in a hurry. In fact, we need to be sure that we don't overd0--have you noticed how hard it is to get an omelet at any restaurant that is made with less than three eggs?

And omelets when eating out are almost always breakfast or brunch fare. However, all this thinking about eggs reminded me of one of my favorite fast and frugal main dishes--frittatas.

If ever there was a dish that needed a template more than a recipe, this is it. The variations are limited only by what you happen to have in your refrigerator, and this is a really good choice for those small amounts of leftovers you weren't sure you'd ever be able to use.

Basic Frittata--a Template

2 eggs per person
1 to 2 t milk for every 2 eggs
Oil for sauteeing vegetables and cooking eggs
Possible add-ins:
  • chopped onions
  • chopped bell peppers (or a tiny amount of jalapeno, poblano, or spicy banana peppers)
  • minced garlic
  • grated zucchini, small broccoli flowerets, etc.
  • diced fresh tomatoes
  • spinach or other greens, coarsely chopped
  • leftover cooked vegetables--broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots, beans, etc.
  • leftover diced ham, chicken, beef cubes
  • hot dog slices
  • black or green sliced olives
  • diced or grated cheese, any variety of your choosing (see NOTE below)
  • herbs of your choice, fresh or dried
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salsa

1. If you are using onions, peppers, or other fresh vegetables, saute them in a small amount of oil until just tender. Onions should be translucent and just starting to turn golden. If you have leftover ham (or bacon--does anyone ever have leftover bacon?), stir that in with the vegetables to meld the flavors. Use a very large pan, as you will want the frittata to spread out thinly for the most even cooking.

2. While the vegetables are cooking, beat the eggs together with the milk. Stir in any herbs or garlic you will be using. Beat until the eggs are a uniform yellow color.

3. Fold in any other ingredients you will be using into the eggs. Turn the heat to medium low and pour the egg mixture over the sauteed vegetables.

Now you have a choice, the purist method and the get it done quickly approach:

3a. Purists: Allow the eggs to cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Gently lift a corner of the mixture. If it holds together, you can try to flip the entire mixture over, keeping the frittata as intact as possible. Continue cooking until the second side is completely set.

OR

3b Get it done quickly: As the eggs cook, gently push the mixture with a spatula so that all parts are cooked evenly--like you would do when making scrambled eggs. Cook until all the frittata is set and has lost the wet shininess of uncooked eggs.

NOTE:
If using cheese, you can fold cubes of cheese into the eggs and cook along with the other ingredients, resulting in little melted pockets of cheese throughout the mixture. An alternative is to cook the frittata and then sprinkle with grated cheese. Run the pan under the broiler until the cheese is melted.

Serving suggestions:

If you have either corn or flour tortillas, the frittata can become a filling for a burrito. Refried beans and salsa are great accompaniments for this meal.

Just about any kind of bread goes well with a frittata, really the only accompaniment needed if you stir lots of vegetables into the eggs.

So what proportions of eggs and vegetables or other add-ins should be used? There is a tremendous amount of flexibility with a frittata. You can add just a little (perhaps a quarter cup of sauteed onions and peppers for 6 to 8 eggs) and have something very similar to scrambled eggs to serve with a tossed salad. You can also add up to 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and meat to only 6 eggs and have what will be much more like a vegetable main dish. The choice is yours, based on your family's preference--and the contents of your refrigerator!


And finally--in case you wondered:

What is the difference between an omelet and a frittata?


With an omelet, the eggs are cooked separately (as in step 3a above). When they are just set, the other ingredients are laid across the top and the egg layer is folded over the top. Often, this is then put in the oven to complete the cooking of the eggs. Frittatas just take the shortcut of mixing everything together.

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