Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Frittata

I hate throwing food away.  I've been known to let food ferment in the back of the refrigerator for weeks because somehow it seems like less of a sin to throw something away once it has mold on it.  What kind of a twisted person thinks that leftovers are too old to eat, but not old enough to throw away?  Easy--a person raised by parents who survived the Great Depression.  I'm not being facetious.  I grew up routinely observing my father get out a container for 2 tablespoons of leftover mashed potatoes and then dutifully make a potato pancake the next day--a very small potato pancake, but a potato pancake nonetheless.  As he likes to remind me, when his family slaughtered a hog on the North Carolina farm where he grew up, "they ate everything but the squeal."  Yum. 

So I've learned to save food.  One leftover Italian sausage?  Stick it in a baggie and pop it in the 'fridge. One-quarter cup sauted red peppers?  I've got a container for that somewhere, even if there's no way on earth I'll ever find the matching lid. A two-inch cube of cheddar cheese that managed to escape last Friday night's happy hour?  Save it, save it, save it.  A good creative cook will know how to use it.  Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, it's a wondrous thing when a whole new dish is born from the detritus of leftovers.  And of course, one of my favorites is the frittata.

You have to love the frittata.  It's such a sneaky way to show off in the kitchen.  It's really nothing more than an omelette, but unlike an omelette, which actually takes some skill to make, any bozo can throw together a frittata.   So--get ready to clean out your refrigerator and let's crack some eggs.

The Frittata:

1.   Figure out what you've got in your refrigerator.  If you can't remember exactly when it went into the refrigerator, it goes in the trash.  Same rule if you you actually do remember when it went into the refrigerator and the thought makes you involuntarily gasp.  

2.  Beat together about 10-12 eggs for about 5-6 servings.  Get out a 10-12 inch cast iron pan--or any pan that you can comfortably move from the burner to the oven.  Oil it well with olive oil.  Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

3.  In a separate pan saute one small-to-medium sized onion.  I don't know why that is, but I've never made a frittata without onion. 

4.  Pull together your leftovers.  You'll want about 2 1/2--3 cups of "stuff, " (not counting the onion) of which one cup should be cheese (unless it's a really pungent cheese, like goat cheese, and then I'd hold it back to about 1/2 cup). Think about the kinds of things that you might typically put in that boring old omelette or that otherwise complement each other: 

          *  swiss cheese, ham, peppers, onions, mushrooms; or
          *  ground beef, taco seasoning, black beans, monteray-jack cheese, peppers; or
          *  buffalo mozarella cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, basil; or
          *  fresh baby spinach, goat cheese, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes; or
          *  roasted potatoes, cheddar cheese, finely chopped cooked bacon

5.  The only rule is to not be disgusting.  Avoid ingredients that have a lot of moisture because you'll never get your eggs to properly set.  If you completely fail and inadvertently make something totally inedible, you're probably only out a dozen eggs; after two more days you would have thrown out the other stuff anyway.  See Step 1.

6.  Take your well-oiled pan and place it over medium to high heat to get it hot.  Add the well-beaten eggs and let them set for about one minute.

7.  Start sprinkling in your stuff making sure that it is well-distributed over the pan:  onions, veggies, diced meat, cheese etc.  DO NOT STIR unless you simply want to have scrambled eggs for dinner instead. Turn down the heat to low.

8.  Wait for the mixture to really set.  I wish I could tell you exactly how long that is.  It all depends on the ingredients you have used, how high your heat, and how big your pan.  Generally, you know that the eggs have "set" when, although they are still a bit runny, they don't slosh over the side of the pan if you jostle the pan a little bit back and forth.

9.  If you want, now you can get fancy.  Depending on your recipe, make a decorative pattern on the top of the frittata with one of your ingredients:  a sliced tomato, sauted mushrooms, strips of yellow squash or zuccini, or slices of cheese.  Open your heart to your creative spririt.  And yes, I'm fully aware that it's a little pathetic that this is how a middle-aged mom in suburbia lets loose and gets crazy; but there it is.

10.  Finish cooking your frittata in the oven.  For this step you want the eggs to be cooked through, which will probably take about 15-20 minutes, again depending on the ingredients you've used and the size of your pan.  Slice into pie-shaped wedges, and serve hot or at room temperature.

So there you have it.  The frittata. Fri-ta-ta.  So chic!  So European!  So damn easy.  And you made it with leftovers.

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