Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hakuna Frittata

If you’re in the mood for a great-tasting, light meal in the steak-and-eggs spirit, the Hakuna Frittata – an asparagus and roasted red pepper frittata with just the right touch of bacon, and a ground lamb (no lion or, worse, meerkat) and tomato topping - may be just what you’re looking for. Plus the name is really cool to say. (If the name, or the reference to lions and meerkats, has you mystified, people who had small children in the mid-90’s and can explain it are easy to find; it’s a small world after all.)

The real, and decidedly unglamorous, origins of the Hakuna Frittata arise from the fact that I like eggs, wanted to do something different with a frittata, and had a package of ground lamb in the freezer that I’d gotten with no particular recipe in mind but that I thought would make a nice ingredient in, well, something.

The frittata, of course, is Italy’s version of an omelet, with the vegetables incorporated into the eggs rather than being placed on them. It’s usually cooked in a pan and is more-or-less pie-shaped. In this recipe, I’ve taken a different approach and baked the frittata in a loaf pan in a larger pan of water for more even cooking (a kind of improvised bain-marie), a method presented in Michel Richard’s “Cooking with a French Accent” that I had the opportunity to learn in a class with Chef Renee at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. (It’s a fantastic place for both full time and recreational classes if you’re in the New York area.)

A special note for new cooks: this recipe also uses a number of techniques – whipping and folding egg whites, blanch and shock, preparing roasted red peppers, the aforementioned bain-marie - that will be familiar to people who’ve cooked before, and that will be great additions to the skill set of anyone new to cooking. (Where appropriate, I’ve added some Cook’s Notes in the recipe to clarify certain points for anyone new to this.) Note that whipping the egg whites is not normally done when making frittatas and, in fact, isn’t even necessary if you’re using fresh eggs. As readers know by now, I look to reduce fat in recipes where I can, and use egg substitute a lot. It’s good for most things, but doesn’t fluff when cooking quite the way fresh eggs do. For recipes where that's an issue, I’ve found adding beaten egg whites to be the solution. It’s an example of how reduced fat cooking and baking typically require more than just substituting reduced fat ingredients, which can have a negative impact on texture. You need the proper items and techniques in your low-fat tool-box. More on that another day.

Ok, let’s cook! This recipe makes about 4 servings.

Place a large baking dish half-filled with water into the oven, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

To prepare the asparagus:
  • Bring a pot of salted water large enough for the asparagus to a boil. 
  • Make a salted ice bath in preparation for cooking the asparagus. 
  • Cut the stems off of ¾ pound of medium-to-thick asparagus. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough outer skin from the back end and make the shafts a uniform thickness to cook evenly. Boil until tender but still crisp, about 3 – 4 minutes, then immediately place the asparagus in the ice bath. [Cook’s note: This method of stopping the cooking and preserving the nice green color is called, “blanch and shock.”] When they’ve cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath, and place them on a towel to dry.

Roast two red peppers in a skillet, dice, and place in a skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil. [Cook’s Note: For tips on roasting the red peppers, see last week's recipe for Chicken Pasta Primavera.] Add ½ teaspoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, and 2 minced cloves of garlic, and cook over medium heat until the vinegar has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Cook and finely dice one or two slices of turkey bacon, and set aside.

Coat the sides of a 2 pound loaf pan with butter substitute. Line the bottom of the loaf pan with parchment.

In a bowl, beat five egg substitute eggs together with one tablespoon of minced, fresh basil.

In a second bowl, add a pinch of salt to two fresh (not packaged) egg whites and beat until firm peaks form. [Cook’s note: Using fresh egg whites here, and not the packaged egg whites, is very important. I’ve found that packaged egg whites don’t form peaks the way fresh egg whites do.] Fold the beaten eggs into the egg substitute mixture. [Cook’s Note: When folding beaten egg whites into another mixture, there’s no need to make sure they combine completely. Some white streaks or bumps from the beaten egg whites are ok. Attempting to combine everything completely can result in the beaten egg whites losing their fluffiness.]

Place about 1/3 of the asparagus on the bottom of the loaf pan, alternating tips and bottoms, being sure to leave space in between each stalk. Place 1/3 of the cooked peppers on top of the asparagus, then sprinkle with 1/3 of the diced bacon. Repeat with another 1/3 of the asparagus, peppers, and bacon, and then with the remaining asparagus, peppers and bacon. (Leaving space between the asparagus stalks is critical; if there is not enough space between them, the egg mixture will not get in between the asparagus and the finished frittata will fall apart when cut.)

Gently pour the egg mixture over the asparagus and peppers, making sure all of the asparagus are covered. After the loaf pan has been filled, tap it gently to distribute the liquid evenly.

Cover the loaf pan with foil, and place it in the oven in the pan of water to form a bain-marie. Bake until the eggs are firm and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean (45 – 60 minutes).

While the frittata is baking, make the topping as described below.

In a bowl, combine the one pound of ground lamb, 3 chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, 3 chopped sprigs of fresh rosemary, and 1/3 cup flat Italian parsley.

In a large pan over moderately high heat, and add the lamb mixture, 1 diced medium onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic. Cook until the onions are soft and the lamb is well browned. (If possible, drain some excess fat as you go.) Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.

Add a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice to the lamb mixture. Simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 15- 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

When the frittata has finished baking, remove the foil and let it rest for about 15 minutes. (If any water has formed on top of the frittata, dab it up with a paper towel.)

Run a knife around the edge of the loaf pan, and turn the frittata out onto a platter, dabbing of any excess liquid. Slice the frittata into portions; after plating, top each portion with the lamb topping, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

And with that, the recipe’s circle of life is completed, and you’re ready to feel the love of a good meal tonight! If you'd like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, drop me a line or a comment and it shall be yours!

That's it for now. There'll be a new recipe posted here next Saturday, so please come by! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

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