In addition, there were the ordinary chores that pile up for a day off and a garden that has become a jungle due to the abundant rain (not to mention a patio full of plants ready to be planted and waiting for the ground to dry out). I also wanted to post to my blog... At the end of all of this there was dinner to prepare. And even though I was tired by the end of the afternoon, as always I wanted to feed myself something worth eating...something satisfying and nourishing.
When I finally did get around to cooking dinner, I had the evening news on and there was what has become the almost nightly report on how fat Americans have become—due in part to the terrible things that people are eating. The usual suspects of gargantuan portions of saturated fat-laden, chain restaurant foods were paraded across the screen (right after the obligatory camera shots of the large waistlines and behinds lumbering down our streets). It caused me to wonder, as it always does, why in the world people are consuming this junk when it is clearly so bad for us
There are of course lots of answers to this question. But the one that struck me yesterday was how easy it is at the end of an overly busy day (and most days seem to be overly busy) to go out and have someone make your dinner for you while you sit and relax. I toyed with the idea of going out for dinner last night myself. But I had food from the market in the refrigerator that will go bad if I don't use it and I don't like to waste food.
Because I do have food on my mind most of the time, by mid afternoon I was mentally arranging and rearranging the produce in my fridge with staples in my cabinet and freezer--trying to come up with dinner--while I was doing other things. I know this kind of mental activity is not something everyone enjoys, but you don't have to be a chef to come up with something that is simple to prepare from ingredients that you already have on hand. I mentioned in my previous post how during the market season, you can allow your market purchases to be your guide and inspiration when planning your dinner. If you are stumped for ideas, a quick internet search on a particular ingredient or combination of ingredients will produce several recipes—some of which are bound to be short and simple. Another good resource is Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. This magazine is specifically designed to give you ideas for fast, healthy meals. If you don't get the magazine, the recipes can all be found at her website.
One of the many things that I hope to accomplish with this blog is to provide ideas and sometimes recipes for using the ingredients that you find at your farmers' market each week. I want to encourage people to cook and eat fresh, healthy food on a daily basis. Not diet food. Just real food made with real ingredients. If you don't know how to cook, the only way to learn is to start cooking. The more you do it, the better and faster you will get.
Last night I eventually decided to make a Swiss Chard Frittata. If you have never had or made a frittata, it is nothing more than a flat, open-faced omelet. Frittatas are very easy to make and they are a great vehicle for cooked vegetables—this time of year cooked spring onions, wilted spinach or chard, blanched/sautéed asparagus or peas, sautéed/roasted artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, boiled or roasted potatoes, etc. They are usually topped with cheese. They can also include cooked meats or fish, but I generally make mine with all vegetables since the eggs (and cheese) provide all the protein that I need.
If you have been following my blog, you may remember the recipe I posted for a Potato and Mushroom Tortilla Española and you may be wondering what the difference is between a Tortilla and a Frittata since both are basically flat cakes of cooked eggs mixed with other cooked ingredients. I had this very conversation recently with a chef friend (Margo). Margo said that to her a Tortilla put the emphasis on the filling ingredients with the egg acting as more of a binder and that a Frittata was more about the eggs with the other ingredients acting as the supporting players. This is probably an accurate observation. To me a Tortilla also has to include potatoes that have been poached in olive oil, but this may just be my personal bias. Another difference is that Tortillas generally don't contain cheese—I almost always put cheese in a Frittata. But I think it is actually safe to say that the biggest difference between the two is that one is Spanish and the other is Italian. In practice, they are both a flat omelet. Both are served hot or at room temperature. And they are both good cold the next day, too.
Besides bread, I always like to serve a salad of some kind with a frittata. I had lots of salad greens from the farmers' market in my refrigerator--and a green salad would make a great accompaniment for a frittata. But I wasn't really in the mood for a green salad last night. Instead I served my frittata with some simply dressed roasted beets.
To roast beets: trim off the tops, leaving about an inch of stem, scrub them and place them in a roasting pan with about a quarter inch of water. Cover them with foil and roast at 375° to 400° until they are tender—about 40 minutes to an hour. When they are cool enough to handle, trim the top and the root and rub the skins off with a paper towel. Cut them in halves, quarters or wedges—or slice them. Dress them with lemon juice or vinegar to taste. Acidity accentuates the sweetness of the beets—keep adding lemon juice or vinegar until the beets begin to taste sweet. Then season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
Roasting is the way I almost always prepare beets, so when I am really on the ball, I will roast them immediately when I return from the market. I then dress them and put them in the refrigerator to enjoy all week—in a salad or as a side dish. But even if I haven't planned ahead, they are easy to prepare while doing other things (like cleaning chard for a frittata)—especially if you don't need the oven for anything else. In addition to lemon juice and olive oil, I seasoned my beets with cumin and mint and served them chilled, drizzled with plain yogurt and sprinkled with toasted walnuts:
We ate all of the beets last night, so for my lunch today, I had the frittata with a little salad of cherry tomatoes dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and tossed with some arugula chiffonade. This was very good too and would be a nice option for people who don't like beets....
Swiss Chard Frittata
2 T. Olive oil
4 or 5 spring onions, minced (white and some of green)—about 1 cup
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
5 to 6 oz. cleaned Swiss Chard, cut in a wide chiffonade
Salt & Pepper, to taste
7 to 8 eggs (room temperature), lightly beaten
2 oz. grated Gruyère, Fontina or Provolone
2 to 3 T. grated Parmesan
Heat 1 1/2 T. of oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until tender—about 5 to 10 minutes. Add some salt and the garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add the chard. Cover and cook until wilted and tender—another 10 minutes or so. Uncover and continue to cook until any liquid given off by the chard has cooked off.
When the chard is cooked stir it into the eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet and return it to the heat, increasing the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining ½ T. of oil to the skillet. When the skillet is hot, add the egg mixture. As the eggs begin to set, shake the pan back and forth and with a rubber spatula lift the edges of the coagulated eggs in order to let the uncooked egg run underneath. Continue cooking and shaking and lifting until the eggs are mostly cooked but still moist on top. This should only take a few minutes.
Place the skillet under the broiler and broil just until the surface is no longer moist—about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the cheese over the surface and broil again until the cheese melts—another 30 seconds.
Slide the finished frittata onto a platter or cutting board and let sit for a minute or two. Cut into wedges and serve. The frittata may also be served at room temperature. Serves 4.
Variations: Substitute cleaned spinach for the Swiss chard. For the frittata pictured, I added some whole milk ricotta, daubed over the surface of the eggs before covering with the Fontina and Parmesan.
Note: To make a frittata with any vegetable or meat filling, just remember that the method is always the same: Cook the filling. (It is easiest to sauté the filling in the pan the frittata will be cooked in, but it is not necessary. Fillings can also be roasted or blanched. Frittatas are also a great place to use up leftovers.) Stir the filling into the eggs. Cook as directed above. Top with the cheese(s) of your choice. You will need 1 to 2 cups of cooked filling for a 7 to 8 egg frittata. Possible additions include potatoes, mushrooms, squash, broccoli & cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, sausage, bacon, crabmeat, etc. Frittatas can be served with a salad and are frequently served as the filling for a sandwich.