Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Homage to the egg

It's so good to be back. My taste buds are finally back in working order, but let me tell you, I was scared there for a minute. I find that when you're sick, you spend more time thinking about what you wish you could be eating. It's not totally abnormal for me to daydream about food, but I was even more taunted this past week. You think about food, and cooking, and then you start fantasizing about food actually having feelings. Weird, I know. Lately, I’ve been feeling sorry for the egg.

It’s always been so trusty, so constant: the ever-humble, adaptable source of protein. It has a way of always making it into the fridge, and sitting there politely, in its brown carton, never asking for anything. But eggs always seem to get lost in the shuffle, overlooked as mere add-ins to a cake or a meatloaf or a dough. The egg seldom gets to play the lead, and when it does, it’s usually not a memorable performance.

What I mean is, scrambled eggs are usually what I try not to fall back on, as tempting as they are, being so cheap and so quick. There are times, yes, when cheap and quick is all I could ever want, but the egg can do so much better than that, and in not much more time. I feel like we owe it to the egg; it deserves a better vehicle than we’ve been giving it all these years. It deserves a tricked out vehicle, you might say, one with leeks and Gruyere.

Last night, I paid homage to eggs with a heartbreakingly simple frittata. A frittata is lighter and simpler than a quiche, and is what you make if you lack the pastry know how of crust-making and feel sacrilegious buying one pre-made. Made with just eggs, vegetables, a splash of milk and a scant handful of cheese, a frittata really lets the egg shine.

Leeks and Gruyere would be the obvious choice if you’re feeling chic and French, I suppose, but you could substitute with any vegetable and semi-hard cheese. I once made a caramelized onion and goat cheese one that worked beautifully. It takes only about ten minutes to do (longer if you’re melting leeks, but isn’t being time consuming the French way?), and you end up with what I like to think of as a gussied up omelet, or at least its grown-up cousin. Either way, it’s something to look forward to making, not to dread falling back on: it’s all egg, all on its own, and it’s delicious.

Leek and Gruyere Frittata

10 eggs
A splash of milk
1-2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, washed and chopped
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese, plus a little extra for sprinkling

Melting the leeks is the only real cooking you have to do here: melt the butter in a skillet, and toss in the chopped leeks. Sweat them for about five minutes, and when they’ve started to soften, add enough water just to cover them. Simmer on medium high until most of the water has evaporated, and leeks are very soft. This should take about ten minutes, but taste as you go along: they should be feel “melted,” or rather, they should almost melt in your mouth. Add more water as necessary.

Preheat broiler. Melt remaining butter in a heavy cast iron skillet heat to medium. Crack eggs into bowl with milk, and whisk to break up yolks. Incorporate leeks and cheese, and transfer to the skillet. Let the egg mixture cook slowly for about five minutes, or until the sides and the top are mostly set. Sprinkle remaining cheese on the top, and transfer to the top rack of the oven.

Be careful with this part: it only needs about a minute or two under the broiler, and it cooks fast. When the cheese has melted and the top looks brown and bubbly, it’s done. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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