Our spring entertaining often centres on brunch after an early morning bike ride or hike in the woods with friends. Hungry, we're looking for strong coffee and an easy-to-assemble main course. Enter the oven-baked frittata: fresh eggs, beaten with cream or milk, embrace tender vegetables and fresh herbs.
Easier than an omelette, Italian-inspired frittatas are cooked in a skillet with the vegetables stirred in rather than used as a filling for folded eggs. Frittatas can be cooked completely on the stove top. I prefer to cook them in a low oven where the steady heat prevents excess browning and overcooking.
As for the flavourings, fresh, tender spring vegetables, briefly cooked in advance, welcome the velvety texture of gently cooked eggs. Think asparagus, new potatoes, skinny tender carrots, baby spinach and sweet onions. The first shoots of garden fresh herbs work here, too.
In the first recipe, fresh mozzarella offers silken bits in between the eggs and vegetables. When the asparagus is very tender and fresh, I skip peeling the stalks. Fingerling potatoes, cut into 2.5-centimetre rounds, can stand in for round new potatoes. Green onions and fresh dill perfume the whole dish.
Bagged, peeled baby carrots work OK in a lunchbox. For a special brunch dish, I seek out the superslender carrots in various shades of orange and yellow sold at specialty markets. Two cups of diced butternut squash or sweet potatoes can be subbed for the carrots. With the veggies roasted until tender, then mixed with baby spinach and fresh garlic, this frittata is then cooked in a baking pan for easy transport and serving.
Both dishes taste great served at room temperature or even chilled. Accompany the asparagus frittata with thickly sliced ripe tomatoes and crusty bread. Serve the carrot and spinach version with a mixed-berry fruit cup and toasted raisin bread. Brew fresh coffee, offer a mimosa of fresh grapefruit juice and sparkling wine and you'll have happy friends.
Asparagus, New Potato and Fresh Mozzarella Frittata
8 small (1-inch diameter) new potatoes, scrubbed clean, quartered
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
4 green onions, trimmed, chopped
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh dill
10 large eggs
125 ml (1/2 cup) whole milk or half-and-half
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
1.25 ml (1/4 tsp) freshly ground pepper
1 cup diced (4 ounces total) fresh mozzarella or brick cheese
Chopped fresh dill, for garnish
Heat oven to 160 C (325 F). Put potatoes into a large microwave-safe bowl. Add water to barely cover potatoes. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap vented at one corner. Microwave on high (100 per cent power), stirring once, until nearly fork-tender, 4-5 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 2.5-cm (1-inch) lengths and set tips aside. Heat olive oil in a 30-cm (12-inch) ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus stalks; cook until nearly fork-tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in asparagus tips and green onions; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in potatoes and dill. (Mixture can be made ahead up to 2 days; re-warm before continuing.)
Whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
Place skillet with vegetables over medium heat. When hot, sprinkle cheese over vegetables. Reduce heat to low; gently pour egg mixture over vegetables. Cook until bottom is nearly set, about 3 minutes. Transfer to oven; cook until a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Serve warm, sprinkled with more dill.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 279 calories, 18 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 327 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 337 mg sodium, 2 g fibre.
Cheesy Spinach and Tri-colour Carrot Frittata
Use whole grain bread for a hearty dish; choose a fresh French baguette for a lighter texture.
1 L (4 cups) 2.5-cm (1-inch) cubes of bread
2 small bunches (450g/1 lb total) skinny carrots (such as tri-colour carrots), ends trimmed, peeled
1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
45 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.5 l (6 cups/5 oz) baby spinach or baby kale leaves
12 large eggs
250 ml (1 cup) half-and-half or milk
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) minced fresh thyme or 1 ml (1/4 tsp) dried
1 ml (1/4 tsp) crushed red pepper flakes
125 ml (1/2 cup) shredded cheese, such as Parmesan or Gouda
Chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro
Heat oven to 205 C (400 F). Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet. Bake until barely golden, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a well-buttered 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
Cut carrots into 1.5-cm (1/2-inch) wide rounds. Mix carrots, onions and oil on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) salt. Bake until fork-tender and golden, 20-30 minutes. Stir in garlic and spinach to coat spinach with oil. Return to oven to wilt spinach, 2-3 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 160 C (325 F). Distribute carrot mixture over bread cubes in the baking dish.
Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, thyme, remaining salt and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Carefully pour into baking pan. Use the back of a spoon to immerse bread into egg mixture.
Bake 25 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Continue baking until a knife inserted comes out clean, 5-10 minutes more. Use a metal spatula to cut into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Nutrition information per serving (for 8 servings): 285 calories, 18 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 294 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 634 mg sodium, 3 g fibre