Monday, March 20, 2017

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata


Happy first day of spring! Here's to the return of fat-bellied robins, green lush landscapes, farmer's markets, outdoor entertaining, planting herbs, and taking my bicycle out for long rides. The older I get the more I appreciate what the change in seasons brings. Particularly feelings of self-renewal. Longer days, warmer weather, and more vibrant landscapes always increase my energy level. Not that I am a slacker by any sense of the imagination, but I just seem to operate on a slightly higher ramped up level when spring arrives. However, I am not quite sure I am ready to put all of that energy into the kind of use the person who shall remain nameless would like to see. Cleaning out and organizing closets/dresser or purging things that haven't seen the light of day in decades aren't exactly the things I like to do with my energy surge. Although life would probably be so much easier if I didn't have to spend so much time looking for things. Maybe this will be the year. Anything is possible.


For as much as I love eggs, cheese, and most vegetables it's rather surprising there are not more frittatas in my life. Considering they are so much easier to make than an omelet, quiche, a chorizo and egg piperade, uovo al forno (baked eggs), or even herb and cheese baked eggs, frittatas should be making more regular appearances at my table. Sometimes some kind of push or some kind of wake up to call is all I need to get back to making foods with great flavor and versatility. This time it came in the form of a dinner at my sister's house. Yes, that would be my one and only younger sister, the one who manages to discover some really great recipes before I do.


The recipe for this Smoky Cauliflower Frittata is one Yotam Ottolenghi shared in his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi". A chef and cookbook I had learned about from my sister several years ago.


If anyone has a flair for making vegetarian dishes feel substantial, satisfying, and deeply flavorful, it would be Yotam Ottolenghi. And his recipe for this frittata does not disappoint. It is everything a frittata should be and then some. It is hearty, it is a savory custard, it feels indulgent, it and it could not be easier to make.

The smoky mozzarella, an aged cheddar, some creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and a sweet smoky paprika give this frittata a depth of flavor unlike any other frittata you have ever had. It isn't just the combination of ingredients used, it's the amount of each of them in relationship to the number of eggs (only 6).


There are two parts to this frittata: the egg custard and the cauliflower.


But let me also spend some time talking about some of the ingredients in the custard. From the smoky mozzarella (scamorza), to the aged cheddar, to the dijon mustard, to the freshly chopped chives, to the creme fraiche, to the sweet smoky paprika, the ingredients in this frittata matter.  When looking for the mozzarella, you may come across cheese labeled only as scamorza. Unless it says smoky scarmorza, you don't want to buy that cheese. The smoked mozzarella will have a very light brown, thin skin on it and it will come in either ball or sliced form. When choosing a cheddar, look for any white cheddar two years or older. The smokey sweet paprika adds a complex flavor to the frittata. The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons (which I used), however, by reducing the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons you would still be able to keep the focus on the flavor rather than on the heat and smokiness. If you haven't cooked with smokey sweet paprika before, I would recommend you use only 1 1/2 teaspoons the first time you make this frittata. Instead of the richness that cream brings to most frittatas, this one uses creme fraiche. It's thicker, less tangy, and richer in flavor than sour cream. It is also slightly more expensive than sour cream. If there was ever a time to not think about cost, this would be one of those times. And last but not least, there is the dijon mustard. The frittata is made with two, yes two Tablespoons of it. Not all dijon mustards are the same. Choose a really good one (see note below for a recommendation).

The cauliflower goes through a two step cooking process before the custard is added to it. In a pan of boiling water, a small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized florets, are cooked until semi-cooked (approximately 4-6 minutes). Not too soft, not hard would be the non-technical way of defining semi-cooked. Drained and dried, the cauliflower florets are then cooked cooked in olive oil until lightly golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Pressing on the florets lightly with a spatula helps to sear or brown them.


With the cauliflower lightly golden brown, the custard is poured into the pan. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Over medium heat, the frittata cooks on top of the stove for approximately 5 minutes. After sprinkling some of the remaining grated cheese over the top the pan goes into the preheated 375 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the frittata is set.


After removing the frittata from the oven, allow to rest for several minutes before cutting into wedges and serving. While it is best served hot out of the oven, I found myself picking at some of the room temperature leftovers and feeling as happy as I was taking a warm bite of it.


If making this frittata for lunch or dinner, simply serve with a peppery green salad tossed with a light (champagne or lemon) vinaigrette, and some warm bread. To make it even heartier (and appeal to the non-vegetarians in the group), bring some grilled steak to the table. And yes, the idea for the grilled steak came from my sister. The perfectly done (medium-rare) thick strip steaks served at dinner were made by my grill master brother-in-law. 

Celebrate the arrival of spring this weekend by serving this frittata for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Open up a good bottle of wine and invite friends or family over. When serving this frittata for brunch, day drinking is allowed and encouraged. 

Recipe
Smoky Cauliflower Frittata (inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Smoky Frittata recipe from his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi"
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into medium florets
6 large eggs
4 Tablespoons creme fraiche
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard 
1 1/2- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 ounces smoked mozzarella or smoked scamorza, coarsely grated (including skin for extra flavor)
2 ounces aged (at least 2 years old) cheddar, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

Directions
1. Simmer the cauliflower in a large pan of boiling water for 4-6 minutes, or until semi-cooked. Remove from boiling water and allow to dry on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and sweet smoked paprika. Make sure the eggs and creme fraiche are thoroughly blended.
4. Stir in the chives and 3/4 of the grated cheeses. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
5. Heat olive oil in a medium sized (10 inch) ovenproof frying or cast iron pan. Fry the semi-cooked cauliflower for about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on at least one side.  Note: Press down lightly with a spatula to get brownness on one side of the cauliflower.
6. Pour the egg mixture over the cauliflower. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Without continuing to stir, cook frittata on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
7. Scatter remaining 1/4 of the grated cheeses over the top and place pan in oven.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until frittata is set.
9. Remove from oven. Allow to rest several minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) I used 2 teaspoons of the sweet smoked paprika (and loved the flavor), however, may consider reducing to 1 1/2 teaspoons the next time I make it. (2) My favorite dijon mustard is Maille. (3) Use a good quality frying pan (preferably one non-stick) or a cast iron pan when making the frittata. Lodge makes great cast iron pans. (4) Served with an arugula salad lightly tossed with a champagne or lemon vinaigrette you have a perfect meal. (5) Leftovers, if you have any, can be reheated in the microwave.

Winter snow shadows (Morton Arboretum, March 2017).

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