Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Easy Dinners: The Frittata

There's nothing worse than that sinking feeling we family chefs get when we realize that the afternoon is dwindling away and there is no plan for dinner yet.

There's nothing better than having a few tried-and-true tricks for turning random ingredients into a perfectly passable repast.

Friends, I present to you the amazing frittata.

Now, let it be known far and wide that my daughters don't take kindly to eggs for an evening meal. 

Oh sure, they love to eat breakfast for dinner but by Streicher family convention, that menu must be based around maple syrup and bacon. Or at least sausage. Back in the days of their innocent childhoods, I could get away with a big bowl of cheesy scrambled eggs as a main course but those days are long gone. 

And while a frittata is fancy enough to look like a real dinner, this friendly little dish is much more humble and down-to-earth than his swanky cousins, the omelette and the quiche. No awkward folding and flipping, or fussy crusts for this easygoing dude. 

Frittatas are easy and fast. 

Just check out the ingredients list:
  • Eggs - about two per person.
  • Water
  • Any random bits of meat, vegetables and seasonings.
  • Cheese (optional)
No, I do not mock you. Frittatas are really that simple.

Now, if you don't have eggs, I can't help you. But otherwise, I promise that you've got something in the house that will be delicious.  More on that in just a moment.

Here's the basic, hassle-free technique. 

Step 1:  Divide your meat and veggie ingredients into two categories - those that will need a bit of advance cooking, and those that will quickly warm through.

Step 2:  Put the advance cooking types into a big black skillet. Toss in a bit of olive oil or butter; salt and pepper to taste. Slide the skillet into a 420 degree oven and stir occasionally until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

^ Here is a pan full of my favorite advance cookers: raw mushrooms, red peppers, and shallots, along with a chicken sausage, and seasoned with olive oil and sea salt.

I try to cut all the ingredients so that everything will cook through within the same time frame. For example, the chunks of mushrooms, which cook quickly, are intentionally bigger than the strips of red pepper, which take more time.

There's no limit to what you can use. Potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, chick peas, squash, carrots, green beans. This is a perfect opportunity to clear out your produce bin, but don't let the family catch you at it. They'll be automatically suspicious.

Frittatas are ideally a bit of a mystery.

^ Step 3: While the pan is busy in the oven, prepare your second group of ingredients - the quick-warm-throughers - and whisk together the eggs. 

Add about one tablespoon of water per egg and whisk that in too, but don't you dare measure the water. 

Frittatas thrive on approximation.

Now about the other ingredients:

I added a heaping helping of freshly steamed broccoli, some sliced sun-dried tomatoes, and three kinds of cheese: Parmesan, mozzarella, and cheddar.

Cheese isn't mandatory. But let's be honest. Melted cheese is always a win.

Other ideas: any precooked (don't say leftover) meat, fish, chicken, sausage, veggies or pasta; fresh herbs, nutmeg, cream cheese, green chiles, salsa, or nuts. 

You could make a Mexican frittata.
Or an Italian meatball frittata.
Or even a banana frittata. With cinnamon sugar on top.

Frittatas are delightfully adaptable.

^ Step 4:. Pull the hot skillet from the oven, and add the ingredients that will quickly warm through.

You can stir everything up if you like uniformity, but I usually concentrate my efforts on getting plenty of cheese on the outer edge of the pan. I like each bite to be just as ridiculously cheese-saturated as the rest. 

Step 5: Set the skillet back in the oven, but before you push the rack back in, pour the eggs into the pan. 

Have you ever carried a blazing hot skillet full of jiggly egg mixture across your kitchen and prayed that you wouldn't splash everywhere or break your wrist? 

Frittatas are heavy and hot, so please, learn from my experience. 

Step 6: Bake until the eggs are set and crispy round the edges, about 20 minutes. Pull your masterpiece from the oven and allow it to cool for five or ten minutes. 

I've found this to be a great technique for building interest in the dinner menu. Any time my family is told that a dish must sit for a while before serving, their curiosity is piqued. Most of the time, they end up gathering around the baking dish, and picking off little golden tidbits when they think I'm not watching. By the time I're ready to slice and serve, they are salivating like Pavlov's dogs. 

Ha. It's all a part of my plan. Frittatas are deliciously tempting.

Here's another great thing about frittatas - they are remarkably all-inclusive. To round out the meal, a small side of fruit is an ideal paring, or a buttered English muffin straight from the toaster.

I found myself with a portion of leftover roasted baby carrots that did not make the cut into the frittata, so I used them as a side dish. That orange looks pretty dashing alongside my frisky frittata, and you know I'm a fool for a colorful plate.

Inarguably, frittatas are devilishly handsome.

So do yourself a favor. Next time you're at the grocery, grab an extra dozen eggs. Because as long as you have those bad boys on hand, I promise that a delicious dinner is well within your grasp.

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For more stories about my carb- and sugar-free eating adventures, read:

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