A Fennel Orange Salad

from my Cookbook

'Naturally Vegetarian'

Il Panino con la Frittata (a Frittata Sandwich)

Today’s harvest: Spinach, Cress, Eggs, Walnuts

“It was my favorite sandwich ever,” says my mom, layering curdles of egg on a piece of toasted bread and topping them with another slice. “As the kids of not-so-wealthy farmers, we only had a handful of options for our school lunches: Bread with oil and vinegar, bread with tomatoes and cucumber, and if we were lucky bread with ricotta and sugar. But the frittata sandwich – oh, it felt like a feast to me.”

My mom’s words sound so anachronistic in a world in which, if we stop and think about it, we have way more than we need and want.
There she is, a woman who, during her childhood, only had clementines and walnuts wrapped in aluminum foil to make them resemble chocolates for Christmas. There we are, kids of the all-you-can-eat generation.

mom frittata

You see people overeating all over the place, no matter where you go. People holding insanely large frappuccinos in the streets of New York. That extra packet of Snickers munched on out of restlessness. The people who, at the table, have that extra helping jut because ‘well, it’s there anyways’.

Whenever I see these things, I am reminded of the reason why I love vegetable gardens so much. Those patches of land, heavily trodden on and sweated on by many farmers’ feet, always bear plenty of produce to sate our need for fresh food.
In that patch of land, enough is always plenty, and plenty is more than enough.
We have hens scampering about the garden, and I love the fact that we can have fresh eggs daily.

eggs-hens

I wanted to share this stupidly easy recipe because it’s a weekday winner, because it can be made out of the cheap bare essentials that are likely to be rpesent in any kitchen, and because I want to pay a little tribute to my mom, who still enjoys a slice of bread with frittata on top.
Let the avocado be a representation of that little extra that represents modern Italy, where new ingredients are finally starting to gain their own spotlight in most supermarkets. And, well – avocados are awesome.

I am sure frittata often saved many a person from lunch or dinnertime dismay. After all, it’s only eggs whisked up with whatever-I-have-in-the-fridge ingredients.

Still, for many italians a Frittata can be both the oven-baked version, or a simple scramble. It’s all frittata, for ‘uova strapazzate’ (scrambled eggs) is too time consuming to say.  So I am describing various methods for this recipe, which is infinitely flexible: pick veggies that you like and add them to the eggs. We are starting to get spinach in the garden, and spinach and ricotta are always a great couple. I am also adding a recipe for regular frittata and for baked mushrooms with Parmigiano and nuts, which go great with this sandwich.

IMPORTANT: It is very important that you whisk the eggs right before you cook them, or they will get watery.

Frittata Sandwich Ingredients

How to Make an Oven-Baked Frittata
(Serves 2)

4 Eggs, fresh
Salt, Pepper
2 tbsp Grated Parmesan (Parmigiano), Grana, or Pecorino
A splash of milk (about half a cup)
Herbs to your liking
Extras: Vegetables (onions are a must!), Other cheeses like Mozzarella or Ricotta, savory ingredients of choice.

  • Pre-cook your vegetables: if using onions, you can sauté them in olive oil until translucent, or caramelize them. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage etc. will need to be steamed first. For leafy greens like kale, spinach, radicchio etc. just lightly wilt in some olive oil, salt and seasonings, and garlic if you like. If you have an oven proof skillet, sauté everything right there.
  • Prepare the broiler.
  • Whisk the eggs with the milk, cheeses, herbs and seasonings. There’s no need to over mix them, or the frittata might get rubbery. Add the cooked extra ingredients to the eggs, or, if you cooked them in an oven proof skillet, pour the egg mixture over them.
  • Cook the eggs until the bottom and edges are set, without touching them. Leave them be! We only want to broil the runny center.
  • Transfer the skillet to a broiler, and cook until golden and puffed up. Check with a knife to see if the frittata is set.
  • Transfer to a serving plate or eat from the skillet, because it’s FUN. If it sticks, whatever!

Baked Mushrooms with Parmigiano and Nut Crumble
(serves 2)
4 Portobello Mushrooms
A handful pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts or a mixture, finely chopped
2 tbsps Grated Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano)

Marinade:
– 1 tbsp Olive Oil
– 1 tbsp Garlic infused olive oil
– 1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
– 1 tsp Honey
– A pinch of salt and pepper

  • Clean the mushrooms: Remove the gills with a teaspoon if you find their flavor overwhelming, and lightly clean them with a cloth or a brush. Arrange them on a baking tray with some baking paper.
  • Mix the ingredients for the marinade and brush over both sides of the mushrooms. Leave them be for some 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200 C˚ / 390 F˚. Add the mushrooms to the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes. Mix the nuts and Parmesan, and sprinkle over the mushrooms. Return to the oven and leave them long enough for the cheese to melt and the nuts to toast, 3-5 minutes.The mushrooms will shrink! But it’s allright as you can (and should) add the juices in the tray to the frittata mixture. You can also cook the mushrooms in an oven proof skillet and add the eggs on top, and bake everything like that.
    If not serving with frittata, they are a great side on their own.

 

Baked mushrooms with Parmesan and nuts

 

Panino con la Frittata (Sandwich with Spinach Ricotta Frittata)
(Serves 1)

For the Ricotta Frittata Scramble:
2 Eggs, fresh
Salt, Pepper
1 scant tablespoon grated Parmigiano, or cheese of choice
About a tablespoon creamy ricotta
(optional) Herbs to your liking
Olive oil, for the pan (about 1 teaspoon per egg, more or less)

For the Sandwich:
A slice or two of your favorite bread
Toppings such as:
– Parmigiano Mushrooms
– Sliced Avocado
– Cress or shredded lettuce
Pistachio Pesto or Classic Pesto
– Sprouts

  • Make the scramble: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and whisk with a fork. Do not overmix, a frittata is supposed to be clumpy. Still, if you prefer it more blended, whisk away some more.
  • Heat some olive oil in the pan. The olive oil is there for flavor, so use a good quality, we always use extra virgin. Once the olive oil gets warm, but not too hot, add the eggs.
  • Wait for the eggs to set on the bottom, then, using a spatula, drag the outer edges inward. Once the egg is set, take off the pan – leaving it there a minute more will overcook the eggs. Done!
  • Assemble your sandwich: lightly toast the bread, add the frittata, pile with your favorite toppings and pack for lunch, or enjoy for breakfast or brunch.

Frittata sandwich

To sum it up:
WHY FRITTATAS ARE AWESOME

  • THEY ARE CHEAP: Eggs and whatever veggies. Great for college.
  • THEY ARE QUICK: It takes, what, 15-20 mins total?
  • THEY ARE PORTABLE: They can withstand hours outside the fridge and won’t change taste or shape.
  • THEY ARE CUSTOMIZABLE: Add whatever ingredients. Like, whatever. For non vegetarians, great classics are bacon and sausage. change the cheeses, or don’t use any at all – yes, do whatever you want with your frittata and yur frittata sandwich.

And drop the Snickers. This lunch is more than enough.

 

Savory Vegetable Muffins (Gluten-Free, even!)

Italy has never been much of a muffin place.
This might be the reason why I have never been interested in muffins. Upon my arrival to the United States, I was able to realize two things: one, that the cupcake icing was something I did not want to eat again, and two, that muffins would be really good if it weren’t for all the butter.

I started to think of all the possible ways to make muffins moist and soft without resorting to butter. Baking is but a work of chemistry, and anyone who knows the basics of the chemistry behind baking should be able to guess their own recipes pretty easily. Still, for some reason, I thought these would turn out to be a cmplete disaster. But I was glad to taste, after quite an easy assembling process, some of the best muffins I’ve ever had.

They are moist, so, so deliciously tender, and they do stay that way. You want to build up the fluffiness, so the recipe guides you through incorporating as much air into the batter as you can, right from the start. This is why we beat up the eggs to make a sort of mayonnaise – to get eggs to fluff up, you either need to beat them with sugar or fat, and use the egg whites as a base to build up volume. As for the flours, I tried both a wheat version and a gluten free version, with no considerable difference. Much as I depise starches, the potato starch here is key to the overall softness of the final product.
I decided to go with goat’s milk products, as they are asily digested and really give these babies a flavorful kick.

The versatility and flexibility of these muffins is amazing: make them ahead, pack them to lunch or to a trip outdoors, use them for a buffet at a party, or just have them with a green salad. Also, the vegetables can be changed according to the seasons, making them a year-round treat. Keep them in the fridge once they’re completely cool.

The solutions for adding moisture are actually endless, but here I chose one of my favorite foods in the world: ricotta. Yogurt, coconut milk, puréed pumpkin and bananas would work wonderfully, too.
But those are experiments for another time.

Gluten-Free Savory Vegetable Muffins
(Makes 8 Muffins)

40 Grams Buckwheat flour
40 Grams Brown rice flour
40 Grams other gluten-free flour like quinoa or almond
40 Grams Potato starch
2 teaspoons Baking powder
4 Eggs
140 Grams Creamy goat’s milk ricotta
50-60 Grams Grated Goat cheese
80 Milliliters Extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of Grated nutmeg
A pinch of Salt and Pepper
1 Small onion
400-500 Grams Mixed vegetables, cooked (here I use mushrooms, spinach, and Savoy cabbage)
1/4 Cup (more or less) Goat milk

  • Prepare the onions:
    Thinly slice them and stir fry them on low heat in some olive oil. Add a splash of water to avoid using insane amounts of oil and cook them half covered until they start to brown, 20-25 minutes. Check them often to see if they need more water.
  • Prepare the other vegetables:
    In the meantime, stir fry the other vegetables singularly: slice the mushrooms and cook until wilted. I browned the mushrooms for best results: to do so, arrange them in a pan in a singular layer, and cook in olive oil until browned on the bottom. Turn them, repeat. As for the spinach, just lightly stir fry with olive oil, salt and pepper. As for the cabbage (which is optional here), braise it in olive oil and a splash of water until wilted. Add salt and pepper.
  • Prepare the batter:
    Preheat a fan oven to 350F˚ / 170C˚. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In a bowl, beat the yolks and add the olive oil a little at a time, as for making mayonnaise. We want the eggs to get creamy. You might not need all the oil; save a couple tablespoons for later.
  • Combine the flours, starch and baking powder, and sift them a little at a time into the egg cream. Once the mixture gets too hard, add half the milk, the reserved olive oil and start incorporating the ricotta cheese. The mixture should be sticky, like a soft dough. If it’s too dough like, add a little more milk, but don’t overdo it! Add the grated cheese and mix to incorporate.
  • Beat the egg whites until very firm. Add a couple tablespoons of beaten whites to make the batter smoother, then add the rest, folding it in with a circular movement, starting from the bottom and going upwards. We want to incorporate air into the mixture. At the end, you should have a smoother, looser dough, but still sticky. Fold in the cooked vegetables, with the same upward motion.
  • Lightly grease and flour 8 muffin tins, or line with muffin cups. Once cooked, they will not stick to the paper or the tins, so you don’t need to over-grease anything. Fill the tins almost all the way to the top. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how your oven cooks. After 30′, check with a toothpick to see if they’re cooked all the way in. If they’re ready, turn off the oven and leave them in for another 5 minutes.
  • Let cook a little, unmold, and enjoy warm. They are also delicious at room temperature, and they will keep outside the fridge and stay moist for days, though I dare you to make them last longer that 3 days.

NOTES:

  • You can, of course, use regular cow milk’s ricotta and milk, and use Parmesan as your grated cheese. To make them vegan, you could use soft tofu and a plant milk.
  • Change the vegetables according to season. For spring, try a mix of peas, asparagus and artichoke; for winter try Radicchio and cruciferous veggies, and for summer try eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. The possibilities are endless!
  • Add seeds to increase the nutritional value: Flax, Chia, sunflower…every seed would be great with these.

Nutrition (per each muffin):
265kcal
19g Carbohydrate
  – 1g Fiber
9g Protein
16g Fat

muffin raw

Pasta with Pesto and Green Beans

Today’s harvest: Green Beans, Walnuts, Basil.

Back when I was in high school, there was a tiny hole-in-the-wall take out Ligurian place that made all sorts of local dishes. Their forte was definitely the pesto pizza and Stracchino focaccia.
Each bite was heaven.

I have always wanted to visit Liguria, and passing in front of that shop made my food fantasies each time more vivid.

I love pesto. If it weren’t so fatty I’d eat it every other day.
Still, all the things contained in pesto are actually really good. You get healthy fats from the nuts and olive oil, good protein without the lactose from the Parmigiano (provided you are using the real stuff that has been aged for 36 months) and all the basil goodness. read more about this fantastic herb here.

pesto genovese mortar

Pesto pasta green beans

When I saw green beans and basil growing in the garden, I somehow started thinking of Liguria, of that shop, and of rich pasta with Pesto. One of Liguria’s most characteristic dishes is pasta with pesto, green beans and potatoes. Here I am skipping the potatoes, because carb-on-carb is really too much, but the result is amazing even without them. Still, feel free to add some boiled potato if you like.
The pesto recipe is from the official Genovese Pesto Consortium (yes, there is one!)

Linguine with Pesto and Green beans
(Serves 3)

For the Pesto:
25g Basil leaves (a good bunch)
1/4 cup fruity Extra virgin olive oil*,
3 tbsp grated Parmesan (Parmigiano)
1tbsp grated Pecorino (or use only Parmesan)
A handful lightly toasted walnuts, or pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
A pinch of salt

For the Pasta:

8.5 ounces (240g) Long shaped pasta (like Linguine or Tagliolini)
1 handful Coarse salt, for the pasta water
2 tablespoons Reserved starchy pasta water
6 ounces (170g) Green beans, trimmed
(Extra) one medium potato, peeled and diced
(Extra) More Parmesan, for serving

* Pesto is usually as good as the Olive oil that is used, so use the best you can find/afford. And, really…don’t be shy. You need that oil. Fore more tips on pesto, read here.

  • If making pesto with a blender:
    Just add everything to a blender except the oil. Blitz to a coarse paste, and start adding the oil a bit at a time, until desired consistency. You might need more oil.
  • If using a mortar and pestle:
    Pound the garlic and the salr first, then add the basil. ‘Tear’ it rather than pounding it, with a light, circular motion. Once a brilliant liquid exudes from the basil, it is time to add the nuts. Once pounded, add the cheese. Lastly, add the oil, a little at a time, to thin everything out. You might need more oil to cover the pesto and store it in the fridge.
  • Vegetables:
    Steam (or lightly boil) the green beans until desired consistency, but they should be quite soft. Check after 8 minutes or so. If you are using the potatoes, boil them as well.
  • Pasta:
    Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt to it. Cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain, reserving some of the starchy water. If you boiled the green beans, you can boil the pasta in the same pot.
  • Assembly:
    Thin out the pesto with a couple tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Add the beans to the pasta and dress everything, using a bit extra oil if needed. Serve with extra Parmigiano on the side.

Pasta pesto and green beans

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