Saturday, June 1, 2013

A most versatile dish

Quiches are great.  Egg, bit of cream, a myriad of different flavour combinations, pastry... What's not to love? Cooking one at home however, that pastry base always puts me off.  One part is being too lazy to make one, while the other is having the mindset that if I can go without it, I should.  The solution? The frittata.

Google image search for "quiche"

Besides the pastry, they have only a few differences. The quiche is French (arguably), while the frittata is Italian. The former is cooked entirely in the oven, while the latter is cooked in a skillet, started on the stove and finished in the oven (though if need be, can be done entirely in the oven, too).  I would also suggest that the egg mixture of the quiche requires cream, whereas the frittata is more similar to an omelette which uses water.  So for all intensive purposes, they're really very similar.

Google image search for "frittata"

To compensate for the lack of pastry, the common frittata (also similar to the Spanish tortilla) often uses slices or chunks of cooked potato as part of the base recipe to help hold it all together.  As a rule of thumb, it's a great place to start as most flavours that go with egg fend similarly with the potato.  From here then it's all about the flavour combinations of the other fillings.

And in my opinion, the ideal circumstances to conjure up an occasion for the frittata are leftovers.  Christmas is perfect: ham off the bone, roast vegetables, cheese platter remnants... you couldn't ask for better.  If after a Sunday roast, make the most of the leftover chicken with some cherry tomatoes, stuffing and basil; or, maybe you simply need to use up what's in the fridge: a bit of bacon, black pudding (if you are that way inclined), with a few sliced green onions and grated cheddar could be all you need.

Currently, I have half a pumpkin and a leek sitting in the fridge so I'm waiting for Sunday morning brunch to make a pumpkin and sauteed leek frittata with toasted pinenuts and grated manchego cheese.  And then I might even go buy some smoked salmon to go with the beetroot, baby spinach and goat's cheese frittata I've been dreaming about for the last few days.

Anything-you-like Frittata (serves 4, or 6 with a salad)

What I really enjoy about making these is the one-pan process of using a skillet (or any ovenproof frypan) on the stove to help pre-cook some (or all) off the elements, and after adding the egg mixture, getting the base and sides cooked to then finish it under the grill until the egg is set and the cheese on top is bubbling and golden.  The other option is to use a lightly greased oven-proof dish (preferably one with sides no higher than a couple inches, and big enough to use up all of your ingredients).  Compile everything as you would in a skillet, with the egg raw, and fan bake at 180 deg C in a pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven.  Check after 20 minutes for the tell-tale signs (as above) and cool slightly before serving.

For an approx. 26 cm (10") skillet (or other pan that can go into the oven) 
A swirl of grapeseed (or other cooking) oil
5 - 6 eggs (depending on amount of filling you have)
3 Tbsp water
1 c pre-cooked potatoes (i.e. roasted, baked or par-boiled), cut into roughly 2cm cubes
Handful of grated cheese (optional)
salt and pepper
+ your combination of fillings (anything you wouldn't eat without cooking should be generally pre-cooked or done so in the pan before you add the egg mixture)

Preheat oven on grill at 180 deg C.  Have a wire rack set between the middle and top of the oven.
Whisk eggs together with water and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Then, heat oil in skillet over medium heat and cook any elements that require it.

When these are ready, add pre-cooked potatoes to the pan and gently stir through the other ingredients to combine flavours.  (If using soft-leaved herbs like basil or parsley, these are generally added just before serving to retain their bright fresh flavour.)  Distribute a little bit of everything evenly over the pan and turn heat to high.

When the pan is up to temperature, add egg mixture ensuring that it gets into all of the wee nooks in and around the filling elements. As the egg starts to set on the bottom, jiggle the pan around to open up gaps to allow uncooked egg to fill these pockets (alternatively, use your spatula to create the gaps and jiggle the raw egg into them).  Turn heat back down to medium and continue to cook for another minute.  Once it looks like the bottom and sides are holding firm, turn off heat and sprinkle grated cheese over, if using.  Place skillet in the oven on the pre-placed rack and grill for 5 minutes, or until egg is set and cheese is bubbling and turning a light golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.  Lovely accompanied by some relish and a dressed green salad for a satisfying light meal.  Or by itself, it is a guaranteed picnic-pleaser.

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