Friday, February 20, 2015

Kale Frittata, Fancy Flipping Optional

Kale Frittata with Quinoa-Flax Bread

Sometimes it's nice to have breakfast foods for dinner.  It doesn’t matter if the dishes are savory or sweet; the feeling of casual comfort is the same.  The dark side of enjoying hearty breakfast foods at any time of day is all the baggage that comes with them in the form of longstanding dietary guidelines warning us against excessive consumption of cholesterol and sweets.  That takes care of eggs, pancakes, waffles, maple syrup, bacon, sausage, biscuits, ham, butter, grits, preserves, scones, doughnuts, hash browns, etc.—pretty much the entire Cracker Barrel menu.

Consumption in moderate amounts seems to be our problem in the U.S., not the foods themselves.  In a brief news report published on the NY Times "Well" blog this week, the “Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” revisits the restrictions previously recommended regarding eggs and shrimp, stating that the data regarding cholesterol do not support limiting intake.  So now there’s no need to feel guilty about eating eggs once in a while.  However, the report does include a stern mandate regarding our outrageous sugar intake.  Here’s the link if you'd like to read more: 
Nutrition Panel Calls for Less Sugar and Eases Cholesterol and Fat Restrictions

People generally seem to be firmly pro or con when it comes to eating eggs.  I can’t think of anyone who has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude on the subject.  I grew up in a house divided; my father refused to eat eggs of any kind and my mother really loved them.  Michel’s egg recollections are closely tied to his mother’s limited culinary skills (noted in a previous post), including her uncanny ability to ruin a boiled egg.  He told me about their Easter family tradition that allowed each person to consume as many eggs as he or she wanted, cooked any way he or she would like—hard-boiled, soft-boiled, or fried.  So, young Michel quickly realized that he needed to cook his own eggs to his liking; by the age of eight he knew how to heat butter in a skillet and how to flip a fried egg perfectly.  He would proudly place his yummy fried egg on a slice of bread and eat it with a knife and fork. 

It’s this nascent egg-flipping skill that Michel recently employed to make his kale frittata recipe. He didn’t set out to make a frittata when putting together the ingredients for this dish.  We labeled it as such only after careful deliberation and some Google searching at the dinner table.  It was one of those winter evenings when you don’t feel like going out and you cook what you have on hand.  In this case it was eggs, kale, onion, and parsley.  

Based on what I’ve read about the dish, this impromptu approach typifies everything a frittata is supposed to be. There’s even an Italian expression to describe it: hai fatto una frittata,” which loosely translates to, “You've made quite a mess.” That could easily apply to lots of situations but it aptly distinguishes the frittata from its uptight cousin, the omelet.  

Frittata comes from the root word meaning “fry” and all ingredients are cooked together.  The omelet is more high maintenance because the filling is added after the eggs have spent some time cooking—no mingling around. 

Now for the flipping part.  Some people cook a frittata on one side only; some people even cook it in the oven.  Some people use a couple of plates to flip it back into the skillet on the uncooked side.  For a very pretty price, Williams-Sonoma will sell you a special set of pans for cooking and flipping a frittata.  

They will even show you how to use it in a (rather boring) video tutorial.  It reminded me of the “Delicious Dish” SNL skit that parodied a public radio call-in cooking show.  Remember Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer hosting the likes of Betty White and Alec Baldwin?  You can find some old videos online if you're in the mood for a laugh. 

Michel does not buy into the idea that you need expensive tools and granite counter tops to make delicious food.  Even the plate-on-the-side frittata flipping method is tantamount to cheating for him.  He used his favorite skillet that he bought at a restaurant supply store years ago and devised a way to flip his frittata using a fish spatula and a regular spatula.  I’m not sure everyone would experience the same outcome using the two-spatula flipping system, but Michel is never one to back away from a challenge.  One of his former violin students describes him as “unflinching” and that’s exactly right.  (Hi, Carlos!)  It’s that same lifelong determination he showed as a young boy who just wanted a decently cooked egg.  

So good luck with your frittata flipping, regardless of your approach.  Your dish will taste delicious no matter what you do. 

To serve two people you will need:
4 eggs
3 stems of kale with leaves stripped and finely chopped
½ onion, cut into very thin slices
a fistful of curly parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
 few grinds of black pepper

Heat olive oil in 10” skillet (“hot enough to have a real sizzle going” when you add the onion)

Add onion slices and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until onions are wilted.

Meanwhile, break eggs into bowl or other container then scramble with a whisk.

When the onion slices have wilted, add herbs, kale, and parsley.

Spread kale, herbs, parsley, and onion around in the skillet then pour scrambled eggs over the mixture.

Cover and reduce heat to low for about 10 minutes, give or take.  You are waiting for the eggs to become brown around the edges.

When the eggs have set and the mixture is brown on the sides, use a spatula to pry the eggs loose from the pan “so that it really moves”—no sticking anywhere.  

With a second spatula—preferably a fish spatula—on top and the other spatula underneath, turn the frittata and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the other side.

Remove from heat to serving plate, cut into four wedges and add salt/pepper to taste.  Eat. 

We devoured the kale frittata along with warm Whole Foods flax-quinoa bread and a kale salad embellished with pomegranate seeds, craisins, and sunflower seeds. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Beet. It’s what’s for dinner. Actually, it’s Vegan Beet Ragout.

There is something inherently challenging about Sundays.  And “special” Sundays present even grander challenges when a holiday coincides with a holy day, for instance.   Even though it’s not labeled a holy day, Super Bowl Sunday might as well be.  The popular culture gods have decreed it.  Every year Michel and I pay as little attention to the Super Bowl as possible.  This is no small feat, considering the marketing hype has made its way into seemingly every facet of American existence. Cholesterol and concussions be damned, apparently.  Even the prepared food counter at Whole Foods was stocked with chicken in advance of the game—legs, thighs, breasts, wings of every imaginable variety. No thanks.  

The only thing I remotely like about the event is the admittedly antiquated Roman numerals that have traditionally been part of the logo.  They appeal to my compulsive reading/puzzle-solving tendencies.  Sadly (for me, anyway), I read yesterday that the NFL has announced they will drop the Roman numerals for the 50th event in San Francisco next year.  True enough, the letter L on its own presents a far less engaging (i.e. macho) look than this year’s symmetrical bookend-ish XLIX.  

I’m not the only one who has an attachment to these numerals, just so you know.  It's comforting to know The Vatican is holding firm on the topic.  Here’s a quick, amusing NPR read for my fellow nerds:  V Reasons to Love Roman Numerals 

Yesterday was one of those special Sundays when we didn’t want to venture into the world—especially the supermarket world where we would encounter lots of people hurriedly buying chicken wings, pizza, tortilla chips, and beer.  Instead, as is his wont, Michel perused the contents of the refrigerator and pantry and invented a brand new dish from the ingredients at hand: Vegan Beet Ragout.  Recipe to follow.  It’s no coincidence that the only cooking television program Michel finds interesting is “Chopped.”  In case you’ve missed this wildly popular show, competitors are given a basket of mystery ingredients and very limited time to create a dish.  There is always one ingredient that’s a curveball and Michel says there is always a key to solving the combination of ingredients if you know what goes with what.  This mystery-basket-type beet ragout proved to be a hearty winter delight—one that Michel will make again.  He also commented that this new dish proves that he indeed “eats with his eyes,” with the chunks of caramelized beet not only resembling cooked meat, but their al dente texture providing the chewy experience carnivores (and former carnivores) crave. 

A note about the pasta in this dish:

The Rustichella d’abruzzo brand Michel prefers is locally available at Lotsa Pasta. He calls it “the best pasta I’ve ever bought in a package.”  Now you know.  His advice is to get the best pasta available in the store because it really is worth it.  The torch-shaped noodles he used for this dish hold the sauce and other ingredients more readily than a smaller, thinner noodle. 

A note about using pasta water:
Michel recommends adding a few tablespoons of pasta water to the mix to help the sauce adhere to the noodles.  If you'd like to know more about pasta cooking, here's a helpful article from Smithsonian Magazine:   

Here’s a new recipe for Sunday or any day. Hope you enjoy it!

Vegan Beet Ragout in Tomato Sauce with Rosemary

You will need:
1 medium red beet, cut into cubes
4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
6-8 olives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried salted capers, chopped
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stems and finely chopped
FYI: Michel says, “The more rosemary you add, the better it is.”
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
½ an onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon pimentón
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
½ package (8-9 oz.) of Maccheroni al torchio (Rustichella d’abruzzo brand is preferable.)

In a skillet with high sides:

Heat olive oil.  Add onion and carrot.  Cook until onion becomes translucent.
Add garlic.  As garlic begins to give off its fragrance, add rosemary and reduce heat to low.

Add capers, olives, tomatoes, pimentón, salt and pepper, beet, and vegetable broth. 

Turn heat to medium, cover and stir every five minutes to prevent mixture from sticking to the pan.  Cook until beets start to soften, but they should stay al dente. 

Uncover and reduce heat to low while you cook the pasta. 
“Just follow the directions—between 10-13 minutes.” 

When pasta is done, add 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water to beet ragout.  The naturally starchy pasta water acts as a binder to help any sauce adhere to any noodle. 

Drain pasta.  Do not—repeat—do not rinse.  Did you read the Smithsonian article?  Add to beet mixture and stir to coat. 

Non-vegan option:  Top with grated cheese.