21 September 2010

Op ALPHABET SOUP: E is for EGGS

There is no one perfect food out there. But a small list of foods come close. Among those, I count the humble egg.

Sure, eggs went through a bit of a public relations crisis during the great cholesterol hype of the 90s. But as it turns out – or at least according to the egg marketing board, whose brochures graced a waiting room in which I was stuck for over an hour – eating an egg a day is hardly damaging to even those with slightly elevated cholesterol.

Which leads one to think that perhaps if you don't eat eggs every day, but instead have a couple of eggs a couple of times a week, you're probably still within the safety zone.

Whether you're living on a budget, trying to go meatless, or just feeling different, eggs can be put to use at any time of day. The following recipe works well for a lazy Saturday breakfast, Sunday brunch, weekday lunch, or any night dinner. You can make it with any combination of ingredients, as you'll see below.

Don't let the long recipe fool you. This is quick and easy to make. And since it's the "unflipped omelette", it's pretty much idiot proof. Can't really go wrong with that!


FOOLPROOF FRITTATA

STEP 1
6 eggs (or 4 eggs + 3 whites)
1/4 cup milk
salt & pepper

Beat together in a steel bowl.

Optional – add anything from this list, mixing again to incorporate:
1 Tbsp Sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Pesto
2 Tbsp fresh Basil or Oregano or Parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tbsp fresh or dried Parmesan, finely grated (omit salt from eggs)

Set the egg mixture aside.

STEP 2
Pick 2 to 4 of the following ingredients, in whatever quantity you like 
(between 1/6 and 1/2 cup each, max):
Red or green peppers, sliced into strips
Asparagus, cut into 1" lengths
Fennel root, sliced into thin 1" strips
Mushrooms, sliced thinly
Zuchinni, sliced into thin half-rounds
Leeks, sliced thinly from whites up to first inch of green
Spanish onion, chopped into smallish thin pieces
Broccoli florets, 1/2" or smaller pieces
Green onions, sliced thinly from white end 1" up green stem
Spinach, rinsed very well and dried, chopped roughly
Cherry or Grape tomatoes, halved
Cooked Chorizo or Italian sausage, chopped roughly into small pieces

No cooking required:
Ham, or smoked turkey, sliced into small pieces
Black olives, sliced or finely chopped


Put a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Start adding ingredients from list above, tossing lightly to coat in oil as you do. Ingredients are listed in order of how much cooking time they'll require. Working down the list, give each item about a minute more than the next one (ie red peppers, then a minute later, mushrooms, then a minute later, cherry tomatoes). Use your judgement – you're softening the ingredients, but don't over cook -- the longest the pan should be over heat and cooking is about 5 or 6 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and a whack of freshly ground black pepper, tossing to mix it in.

Turn the burner down to medium low, or if you have an ├╝ber-powerful cooktop, play it safe and use a lower setting. On a gas cooktop, you can keep the frying pan in place at this point. On an electric cooktop, remove it from the burner for a minute or so to allow it to cool down.

At the same time, turn your oven on to low broil. If you only have one broil setting (high!), set the oven at 475 degrees, instead. In either case, put the top rack about 6 to 9 inches below the top of the oven. Better to err on the side of more distance than too little.

Back to your frying pan. With a spatula, give the ingredients a quick push around the pan to evenly distribute them over the entire surface. Now add your egg mixture, and swirl it around to evenly cover the pan by tilting it a bit back and forth.

Set on the burner, and allow to cook for about 7 or 8 minutes. The mixture should be setting up a bit on the top (ie not as runny as when you put it in there), and definitely should be firming up on the edges. If you wanted to top it with some picture perfect tomato slices, this would be a good time to do so – just lay some very thin slices over the top. They'll sink in a bit, but will still be at the top of the frittata.

Now you can add the cheese!

STEP 3
Top with one of the following, scattered evenly over the entire surface. 
Use about 1/2 to 1 cup, grated, max:
Mozzerella
Fresh or Buffalo Mozzerella sliced into thin rounds
Provolone
Smoked cheddar or provolone
Marble or mild cheddar
Feta
Asiago (use a bit less salt throughout the frittata)

... or hey, use whatever cheese you wish. There's a world of cheese out there, most of it appropriate for a dish like this! I'm a real fan of the smokier cheeses.

Now, into the oven goes the frying pan. Slide it in to the centre of that top rack that you so carefully positioned. Shut the door, and quickly get everything else for your meal ready. You have about 4 or 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the frittata, to be sure it's not burning.

You want the cheese to be melted, and the eggs ought to be completely set.

While it's hot, loosen around the edges of the frittata and the pan, to free it. Slide it carefully onto a plate and slice into wedges to make four to six portions. If you're not sure it will cooperate in exiting the pan, just slice it up in the pan with a pizza cutter, and set it out on the table on a heat proof trivet, and say you're eating a la rustica. Garnish with a bit of fresh parsley or basil leaves, or even cherry tomatoes, if you have them on hand.

A tossed garden salad and crusty bread go well with this. So does a nice side dish of roasted potatoes.

There you have it. Eggs for any occasion. Easy, impressive, and utterly delicious!

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