First, get the oven heating up to 400. Then, take a minute to assess the situation. Don’t go totally improv. You wanna know what you wanna get rid of and then figure out what else it may need that you have laying around.
Alrighty, then. My situation looked as follows:
- A small handful of arugula
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- An onion
- Some garlic
- About a half a small brick of cheddar cheese
- Maybe 2 spoonfuls of leftover Bulgur-Arugula-Corn salad
- 9 eggs
I have the makings of a pretty tasty frittata, but I definitely don’t have a frittata. TO THE FREEZER! And salvation presents itself in the form of a big pack of bacon. Now, I have an anchor. What else? Scouring the fridge again I see about 1/4 cup of leftover sauce from some Chicken Francese. It’ll have body from the flour and wine and acidity from the lemon. I’m a bit short of acidity so that’s good. Probably need more. Hmm...onion, garlic, tomato. Simple rule (not really a rule but maybe a guideline), where there are those things there must be balsamic.
I want the smoky bacon-y goodness to permeate the entire dish. Best two ways to do that are either: load it with a ton of bacon (which I didn’t really want to do - too heavy), or; use a little bacon but use the rendered bacon fat as the base fat everything gets cooked in.
Get a good non-stick skillet, put it over medium heat, let the bacon hangout in it for awhile. Stir it every now and then. Bacon is really forgiving, so you’re not stirring for good even cooking or to prevent something from scorching. You’re stirring to make sure the fat (and I had really fatty bacon) makes contact with the pan so it melts away creating the yummiest cooking oil in the world. It cooks way down. Looks like a lot in the picture above. Look at how it cooked down in the picture below...
While the bacon is cooking down, prep as much of the rest as you can. Chop the onion. I like to use a medium dice so I got onion everywhere but no massive pieces. Throw the onion in a bowl. Mince the garlic. I like garlic...like, a lot. As a result, I used four fairly sizeable cloves. Use more, use less. Keep the garlic separate from the onion. We want to onion to go in for about a minute before the garlic does. This allows the onion to release a portion of it’s liquid (lotsa water in an onion) and keeps the garlic from burning.
Remember, we’re ultimately doing a frittata and will have to flip it out of the pan to plate it, so after you remove the bacon (use a slotted spoon or spatula...we want as much of the bacon fat as we can get still in the skillet) add a little glug of olive oil. You want a decent layer of oil. I had about 2 tbsp of bacon fat and added somewhere in the vicinity of a tbsp of olive oil. Throw in the onion, hit it with a pinch of salt and a little pepper. Give it a minute and add the garlic. Let those two hangout together and start smelling awesome while you quarter, or chop, or crush or whatever you want to do with the cherry tomatoes. Throw in the tomato. Let it all go for a couple of minutes so it starts to come together. Hit it with another pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. We’re building the flavor as we go.
And now, we must balsamic. Don’t measure it. Just drizzle some in, let it go for awhile, give it a taste, if it needs more, drizzle a little more. Balsamic is delicious. It’s acidic and sweet and fabulous but you can overwhelm a dish with it, thus “DRIZZLE” becomes the operative word. I used in the zip code of 2 tsp. Usually I’d go with a full tbsp but it turned out both the onion and the cherry tomatoes were super sweet and I didn’t need quite as much balsamic.
Let it go a bit. Start cracking some eggs. We want the balsamic to work it’s way into the dish and give it a little taste in a couple of minutes to see if we need more. Upon tasting I didn’t want more balsamic but I did want more body and acidity without a ton of sweetness being added. At this point, I tossed in the 2 tbsp of the leftover Francese sauce. I know, I know...you’re thinking “dude, what are the chances I just happen to have some Francese sauce (whatever that is) laying around”. I feel like I know you well enough to say with great confidence “zero”. Three things to think about.
- Do you have any sauces laying around that are lemony or vinegary? They’ll work.
- Go basic...squeeze in either the juice of a half a lemon or a splash of white wine vinegar AND a splash of white wine and about a half a tablespoon of butter. It accomplishes pretty much the same thing as the Francese sauce.
- Forget about it. This is still gonna taste good without it. I wasn’t trying to rescue a dish with it. I was just rounding it out.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk them well. I used nine eggs. Because I had 9 eggs. I had a 10” skillet. 6 eggs is about the minimum, 8 is perfect, 10 is the max with that size pan. Add salt and pepper to the eggs in the bowl and then grate the cheddar right into the eggs. Why do you grate the cheese right into the bowl the eggs are in? No clue but on every cooking show I’ve ever seen that’s what real chefs do and I figure they’re smarter about this stuff than I am. I didn’t measure the cheese but I used about 2 ounces. I had half of an eight ounce brick of Tilamook Cheddar left and I used half of that. If you just grated that out on a plate it would seem like a lot. Against nine eggs, it ain’t much. I didn’t want the dish to be about the cheese. I wanted the cheese to add a creamy component and to help bind the frittata.
Before adding the eggs to the skillet, add the arugula and give it its very own pinch of salt. Let it cook down after you stir it in...which will happen pretty fast...like a minute, at most two. I had a couple tablespoons of a Bulgur wheat salad. Out of sheer stubbornness I refused to throw it out. So, I threw it in the pan instead. Grabbed the bacon and tossed it in there, as well.
Before putting in the eggs TASTE THE STUFF IN THE SKILLET. Don’t make a leap of faith. I’m amazed at the number of people I talk to who don’t taste the thing they’re cooking while they’re cooking it.
Hmm...needed a little more pepper. But...but...but...ah, hell...it was good but I was...bored. Had all that stuff going on and it was vibrant and grounded and yummy and so damn predictable. A Kitchen Sink Frittata, which I’ve just christened this thing, should do better than functional and inoffensive. You’re throwing a bunch of unrelated stuff together. Something about it should give you a fulfilling little thrum of excitement.
To the spice cabinet! Right away turmeric jumped at me. It’s a little bitter and pungent and has some citrus undertones. Didn’t really have any bitter happening. Turmeric doesn’t add a ton of flavor but it is a smoking anti-inflammatory and yesterday I pushed it pretty hard on a hike with a truckload of elevation gain and every joint from the knees down hurt and was a little inflamed. I figured it couldn’t hurt.
What else? Cinnamon? Too easy. Allspice? Not doing it for me. Chipotle, Smoked Paprika, Garam Masala, Chinese Five-Spice? Done it, done it, makes no sense, not feeling it. Wait...garam masala...works well with turmeric...Hell, that combo is a staple of Indian cooking. Makes no sense...which is kinda what I’m shooting for. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But it won’t be boring. You’ll see Garam Masala combined with mustard seed quite often. And I had some ot that, too. What the hell...might as well.
I added these three things cautiously. Wasn’t sure of the ratio. Ultimately, wound up with a mix somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5 tsp of Garam Masala, 1/2 tsp each of turmeric and mustard seeds. Crashing around on Google tonight, I learned that a 3:1:1 ratio of those ingredients is pretty common. It was no longer boring. It was, in fact, pretty good in a silly kind of way. It was downright fun. You just don’t expect it and when you taste a pretty straightforward frittata with a burst of the sub-continent in it...it’s kinda cool.
Pour in the egg mixture and then play “set & stir”. Let the egg at the bottom set for about 10 seconds and then push it toward the center, letting the uncooked part flow into the void. Keep,doing that until it he egg is mostly set. Then throw the skillet into that oven we fired up so many, many words ago.
12-15 minutes. Now we have a challenge...what the hell to do with ourselves. The only work we have left is chopping some parsley, which will take all of one minute, and only that long if you’re really distracted. Make some coffee. Set the table. Clean up a little. Rattle off some pushups and sit-ups. Do some lightning quick yoga if you’re into that kind of thing. Yell at your kids ‘cause you know they’ve been too quiet for too long and that never bodes well. JUST DO NOT OPEN THE DAMN OVEN TO CHECK ON THE FRITTATA. You lose about 50 degrees every time you open the oven, which kinda screws things up. So, leave it alone for the first 12 minutes. Don’t pull it out until it looks like this...
It’s browned a little on top and the frittata has started to pull away from the sides of the skillet. That’s what you’re looking for. Now, the part where it literally and figuratively falls apart. The DREADED FLIP. Here’s the situation...you have a searing hot skillet that just came out of the oven. You got a plate. You gotta flip the thing out, without it sticking to the pan, so that the bottom becomes the top. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just how Italians like to screw with the rest of the world. This is their version of an omelette. It’s more rustic and less finicky and doesn’t require the delicacy of an omelette, but they still wanted to throw a curve at you at the very end, just for giggles. Put a big ass oven mitt on one hand to hold the skillet handle. With a rubber spatula, work along the sides and a little underneath the frittata getting it loose. Put another big ass oven mitt on the other hand. Set a plate face down on top of the skillet and make sure it completely covers it. Grab the sides of the skillet underhanded so your fingers are underneath and your thumbs are holding the plate in place on top. Flip it over as fast or slow as you feel comfortable doing. Set it down. Gently pull the skillet off the top. Voila!
I’ve got it a little off-center on the plate but it’s intact. I’ll take the win.
BAIN (Big Ass Important Note) #1:If it falls apart and is kind of a mess it weirdly tastes no different. So just spoon it onto some plates and go to town.
Assuming it’s intact, cut it into 8 pieces, garnish with a few roughly chopped parsley leaves and give it just a few drops of balsamic on top. I halfway thought when I went nuts with the spices that I’d bite into it and hate it or just be appalled by it or something. This is my second foray into a breakfast dish that has it’s root in another culture (in this case, Italy), has a core flavor of the US Midwest (bacon) and Indian spices (turmeric, Garam Masala, mustard seed) that worked way beyond my expectations (the other is a maple syrup-hot curry Breakfast Taco). It was a pretty basic frittata that would have been good regardless. The spice mix is what made it memorable and fun.
And here’s the thing...the amounts I reeled off up at the top are almost irrelevant. Let’s say I’d only had half an onion. It would’ve worked. Let’s say I didn’t have an onion but had some shallots (and you should always have one or the other around...they stay good for along time and they give you a base to work from)...it would’ve worked. I might have skipped the garlic if I had shallots but maybe not. Let’s say I didn’t have garlic, and let’s also say that this as an impossibility...I always have garlic...so let’s say YOU don’t have garlic. First, severely reprimand yourself for not having garlic. You can make pretty much make anything a passable meal if you have garlic, onion, lemon and tomato laying around. So, always have some laying around. The arugula wasn’t necessary but it adds a nice peppery zing. If you had removed it or used spinach instead, it would have been fine. You just would want to add a little more pepper. Maybe a lot more pepper. That’s why you taste it. The leftover bulgur-arugula-corn salad. Completely unneccesary but added a nice earthiness to the proceedings. If I hadn’t found the bacon, I would have lost that smoky, salty thing that bacon does. That’s okay. If I was going vegetarian I’d bypass the bacon and add potatoes and red bell pepper. It takes it in a completely different direction. And more salt...a lot more salt. Bacon brings salt to the table and potatoes just suck up salt and make it disappear, so you want to add a lot more if potatoes are involved.
BAIN #2: If you’re making a sauce and you let the salt get away from you so it’s overwhelming, slice up a potato and drop the slices in the sauce. You can either have a sauce that has potatoes in it or you can let the potatoes hang out in the sauce for about five minutes and remove them. This turns the saltiness way down. It’s not a miracle cure and sometimes you gotta admit defeat, but it will help.
Finally, find the base flavors that give you a hint of a particular cuisine. In this case, it was Garam Masala, turmeric, and mustard seed giving a hint of India (just a hint...Indian cuisine has so many variations depending on region and really complex and magnificent spice structures). If I wanted to evoke China I would have gone with soy sauce, green onion, and ginger. Thai would be fish sauce, Thai chilli’s and peanuts. French - lose the olive oil, hit it with butter and replace the balsamic with lemon juice and wine and add thyme, chives and tarragon. Italian - basil, thyme, rosemary and some crushed red pepper for a bit of heat. Mexican(ish) - ancho chili powder, cumin, chipotle, cilantro, and lime juice. Greek - dill, oregano, and mint. I was winging this one. If I’d been thinking I wanted an Indian flare from the beginning I’m not sure what I would have come up with different but I would have probably had cardamom, coriander and curry powder in there somewhere.
The two most important things to remember are:
- Taste throughout. It tells you stuff.
- Don’t be afraid of it sucking. You can always just run out and get a bagel if it goes completely sideways.