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Thursday, August 11

Gapers Block

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Ah, the frittata. That's frih-tah-tah. Besides being the perfect "morning after" breakfast for a burlesque performer, (ta-tas vs.tah-tah) frittatas are remarkably simple and easy.

Bad jokes aside, I'm truly surprised that more breakfast restaurants don't serve frittatas. They're much easier to manage than omelets, they only take a minute or two more to make, and they're a bit more versatile. But instead we're stuck with breakfast burritos, instead of this tastier Italian menu item.

I admit to being awful at making omelets. They end up looking like something a three-year-old made when left unattended in the kitchen. I've tried to get the perfect flip, but instead I get a pile of scrambled eggs with stuff on top.

It's been years since I tried to make one, and my cooking skills have improved drastically since then, but I just don't have the urge to try. Why? Because frittatas are so much easier — and just as tasty.

If you can make scrambled eggs and have a skillet that can go from your stovetop to your broiler, then you can make a frittata. It's very simple.

This is going to be another one of those things where I just explain the technique to you and then leave you on your own to experiment. I'll give you some ideas for ingredient combos, but if you want a "must be followed exactly" recipe, then I think you'll have to find someplace else to get your formula.

The essential steps of making a frittata involve sautéing any ingredients you want cooked that aren't already, adding some whipped eggs and other ingredients to a skillet, cooking until the bottom is solid, and then broiling until the top of the frittata is golden brown.

While a frittata is perfect for using up small bits of ingredients that are already cooked, feel free to cook some bacon or sauté some onion, garlic or other vegetables. Just make sure to chop everything in bite-size or smaller pieces. The smaller they are, the faster they'll cook. You'll want 2-3 eggs and about 1/4 cup of ingredients per serving.

Crack your eggs into a mixing bowl, add any chopped and cooked (or uncooked) vegetables, a sprinkle of pepper and salt, a dash or two of hot sauce, some shredded cheese, crumbled bacon or other cooked meat that has been finely chopped, and stir. You'll want to make sure you get lots of air bubbles into the egg mixture, so get out that whisk. If you aren't using a non-stick skillet, add about 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan for every four eggs and turn to coat the pan evenly. Once the pan is heated over a medium flame, pour the egg mixture to the skillet and turn your broiler on to low.

Let everything cook for about two minutes without moving the pan. Now grab the handle of the skillet and use a fork or spatula to pull the egg away from the side of the pan while tilting to get some of the liquid egg mixture to fill in the space. Do this around the skillet once. The top of your frittata should now be wet and loose, but not too soupy. Turn off the heat under the skillet, top with some more cheese if you wish, and then place the skillet about 3-4 inches from the broiler. Open the door every minute to see when the top has set and turned a golden brown. Remove from the oven, cut into slices, and serve. Easy-peasy cooking that gets a rating of 1 on the Stressful Cooking Experience meter.

Some frittata recipes involve doing all of the cooking in an oven. While this method works just as well, it seems more like a soufflé than a frittata, and I don't usually have any interest in waiting 30 minutes to cook something that could take 10 minutes or less using this method instead.

My ingredients of choice are always directly related to whatever I have in my refrigerator, here are a few combinations that you might consider as a starting point for your own experimentation. The ingredients listed below will work when mixed with 4 eggs to make two servings. And if you're only cooking for one, wrap the leftovers and heat them up later.

Basic Italian
1 tomato, chopped
3-4 leaves of chopped basil
1 clove of chopped garlic
1/8 cup of shredded Parmesan or Reggiano cheese

Basic Mexican 3-4 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
1 strip of canned poblano pepper, chopped
1/4 cup of shredded anejo cheese
1/4 cup of leftover cooked ground turkey or hamburger
A sprinkle of cumin
1-2 tablespoons of chopped onion that has been cooked
Serve with salsa and sour cream

You could make this Cuban and vegetarian by omitting the meat and using some canned black beans that have been drained.

Veggie version
2-3 stalks of cooked asparagus, chopped
1/4 of a chopped bell pepper
1 small clove of minced garlic
1 tomato chopped
1/4 cup of shredded cheese

Prosciutto and olive
A few slices of prosciutto, cut into strips
1/8 cup of finely chopped and pitted olives
1 finely chopped scallion
1 chopped tomato
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Smoked salmon
1/4 cup of chopped smoked salmon
2-3 tablespoons of cream cheese
2 tablespoons of chopped capers
2 tablespoons of minced red onion (sautéing optional)

Sautéed veggies
A few slices of each of these sautéed in a tablespoon of olive oil:
Yellow squash
Bell pepper
2-3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley

Fresh herbs are perfect for frittatas since they don't cook for very long. The longer most fresh herbs cook, the weaker their flavor. Dill, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, basil and thyme can all just be chopped and added. Rosemary is a fairly pungent herb, so I suggest mixing it very finely and then sautéing with any other ingredients or at least letting it cook in the oil for a minute before adding the eggs.

Another great thing about frittatas is they don't have to be hot out of the oven. So if you've got several guests for breakfast, I suggest making one of these instead of individual omelets. You'll spend more time eating with your guests than perfecting your flip and trying to keep previously cooked omelets from getting cold. You can also chop all of your ingredients and mix it into your egg mixture the night before. Store it in a bowl with a tightly fitting lid. This way you just have to shake it a couple of times to add some air bubbles and mix up the ingredients before pouring it into your heated skillet.

Since there just isn't a good way to transition, I'd like to close by asking everyone to donate a few bucks to the Katrina relief efforts. The food, art, music, creativity, and energy of New Orleans keep me fueled through our long winters. If you haven't already given money, may I suggest donating a few bucks, or some unused tools and supplies to Craft Emergency Relief Fund. They've started a separate message board for Katrina survivors so help out if you can. Next week I'll share a few recipes I created on long Sundays when I wanted to be in New Orleans, but couldn't.

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