A cheap, quick dinner with endless possibilites

December 29, 2009 · 2 comments


Back in design school, we used to say that if you needed design work, you could have it cheap, good, or fast, but you could only pick two options of the three. This is a dinner that defies the unwritten laws of good design: with this meal, you can have them all.

A few posts ago, I mentioned that we were hosting a brunch a couple days before Christmas. I won’t honor the brunch with its own post, simply because, as is usual in those settings where the kitchen is a den of chaos from last-minute preparations, I didn’t take a single photo. It was a great time, though, having a house full of new friends who are easy-going enough to not mind the relative circus, and who all saw fit to spend some precious holiday time with our family. Definitely a heart-warmer, in my book of life.

One of the dishes I served was a frittata. The original plan was to go the tried-and-true asparagus/smoked meat route, but in the end I wanted to experiment, and go a more true-to-season direction (asparagus, while easy to get, isn’t really in season just yet). Since I’m so fond of stealing ideas from my favorite restaurants in Athens, I took a leisurely internet stroll over to the 5&10 website and pillaged their late-fall brunch menu. I walked away with a frittata with roasted mushrooms, cream cheese, and herbes fines.

I had no idea what herbes fines were. A quick search later, I found out that they are the more delicately-flavored herbs (“fine herbs”) used in Mediterranean fare: parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil. Unlike the herbs found in a bouquet garni, their flavors don’t withstand long cooking. Makes sense for a frittata, since the omelet-type dish is cooked very quickly. The second ingredient unfamiliar to me was the roasted mushroom; I’ve used mushrooms in many ways, but never roasted. Turns out, it’s as easy as it sounds — you coat mushroom caps with some olive oil and salt, and bake them in the oven for about half an hour. The roasting intensifies the flavor, giving every morsel an earthy meatiness that won’t overwhelm the eggs.

Last, there was the cream cheese, which I felt was pretty self-explanatory. Substitutes could be homemade cream cheese, yogurt cheese, or ricotta (it might be too bland, but worth an experiment) — any mild soft cheese would lend a balancing creaminess and flavor without hijacking the dish.

The best things about a frittata: it’s a very budget-friendly dinner (even locally-produced pastured eggs will only put you out $2.50 for enough to amply serve 4 people as a main course) and, like its cousin the omelet, has limitless possibilities for fillings. Just sauté your fillings (or pre-cook them in another manner), then put them in the pan before adding the eggs. Add your cheese at the same time, or mix it, grated, into your beaten eggs before pouring into the pan. The main requirement is a stovetop- and broiler-safe nonstick pan — we have a 12-inch nonstick that I use only in situations as these where it’s completely necessary (otherwise, I avoid Teflon); for the photo above (I know — it’s not a great one — food photography after dark is not my strong point), when I halved the recipe to serve 2, I used a well-seasoned cast-iron pan, and it worked perfectly.

Frittata with Roasted Mushrooms, Cream Cheese, and Herbes Fines
serves 4-6 as main course

  • 8 oz mushrooms (button or cremini), wiped clean and stems trimmed flush with cap
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp herbes fines (combo of at least two of parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil), finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 8 eggs (local, pastured eggs if you can get them)
  • 2-3 oz cream cheese (block or soft)

About an hour before dinner (or, earlier in the day), preheat the oven to 450º and adjust your baking rack to the middle position. In a medium bowl, drizzle the mushroom caps with olive oil, then add 1/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, making sure the mushrooms get coated with the oil (they will absorb it quickly). On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place the mushrooms stem-side down, spaced across the surface of the baking sheet, and roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Using tongs, flip the mushrooms and continue to bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the tops are browned. Remove to a bowl, and drizzle with more olive oil if they seem dry. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use. Before using in the frittata, chop the mushrooms into quarters.

Preaheat your oven broiler, and move the baking rack to the upper third of the oven.

Heat a 12-in nonstick oven-proof skillet over medium heat, and add the butter.  While the butter melts, lightly beat your eggs in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper and the herbes fines. Once the butter is melted, pour the eggs into the pan and stir with a rubber spatula. Add the chopped mushrooms to the eggs, scattering them evenly over the pan. Continue stirring, gently, until the egg starts to set through, about 4-5 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking time, dot pieces of cream cheese over the surface (if using a block, just break off chunks with your finger; if using a softer cheese, use a small spoon and dollop the cheese on top). Once frittata is almost fully set (it will still have some spots of liquid egg on top), transfer to the oven.

Broil for about 3-4 minutes, until the top is puffy and brown. Remove from the oven and immediately slide onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

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SK December 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Sounds and looks amazing. I do love egg dishes for their frugal and delicate nature. Look forward to trying. BTW, what’s your technique been for seasoning your cast iron?

katy December 31, 2009 at 7:17 pm

The one I used for this is a very old 8-inch pan that I think belonged to my grandmother. So, it has always been well-seasoned. For my 12-inch, I purchased a pre-seasoned Lodge, and just followed the instructions (involving heating it with oil, or something?), and I’ve been really pleased with how well and quickly it seasoned. To care for both of them, we use hot water and a plastic scraper (no soap, no scrubbing), then dry thoroughly, and occasionally wipe with a few drops of olive oil.

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