Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shannon Houlihan: Farm Fresh Eggs and Frittata

Adirondack Farm Fresh EggsTake a drive through any little town or along the back roads in the Adirondack Park and you are sure to encounter handmade signs bearing the words “FRESH EGGS HERE”. As people have become more interested in eating healthy locally-grown food, raising chickens for fresh eggs has exploded, and it is truly a welcome change to our food landscape.

I won’t launch into a diatribe here about the evils of factory-farm eggs, as I am sure most people are already aware of the horrific conditions in which large-scale producers keep their chickens, the nasty chemicals and antibiotics which these “farmers” use and the incredibly detrimental effects large-scale farming has on our environment.

Suffice it to say that fresh free-range chicken eggs are jam-packed full of nutrients and simply taste better. Not to mention many egg farmers are resurrecting heritage breed chickens back from the brink of extinction and these chickens produce a glorious variety of eggs that not only taste wonderful, but are also beautiful to look at. Pale sea-green, light mocha brown, pastel pink, creamy white, and of course an infinite variety of speckled eggs. Each egg is as unique as a snowflake and sometimes I feel a little guilty cracking open such pretty things. Until I fry it up, of course.

Although I don’t raise chickens, I’m told it is a fairly easy thing to do if you are willing to educate yourself and commit to the daily care chickens require. The internet abounds with information about raising chickens, and educational seminars are widely available. In fact, our local Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension (always a reliable source for information about gardening, farming, and related topics) just held a “Raising Backyard Chickens” program two weeks ago. For a mere five bucks, you could learn everything you wanted to know about different chicken breeds, feeding, sheltering, general care and selling eggs. If, like me, making the leap to raising chickens is a bit more responsibility than you care to take on, there is no need to despair of having fresh eggs.

Almost every farmer’s market around has egg sellers and if you can’t make it to a market, and don’t happen to have any friends raising chickens, then take advantage of those roadside signs bearing the promise of fresh eggs within! I have done this many times myself, and the benefits go far beyond walking away with a dozen eggs. Generally egg sellers love to chat about what they are up to- what kind of chickens they have, the type of feed they are using and general adventures in chicken raising. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and, best bonus factor of all, you usually get to have the joy of watching the chickens themselves in action, roaming around the yard, cackling and carrying on, punctuated by occasional outbursts from the resident rooster.

Last week, when I got side tracked with making violet jelly my actual purpose in stopping by the farm was to get some eggs. And eggs I got- a dozen good-sized brown speckled day-old eggs Jack’s hens had laid. I decided to put them to good use by making a frittata this morning. Or what I have always called a “frittata” – because the first time I had one, my friend’s mother, who made the dish, referred to it as a frittata. Properly speaking, a frittata is an Italian dish similar to an omelette. I suppose what I make is more of a tortilla de patata which is an egg dish with a crust of fried potatoes made in Spain. Whatever the culinary term, it is a great dish to make for weekend guests or for brunch. Or just because you have a dozen awesome fresh eggs in your refrigerator and the day off.

It does take a little time to do the prep work, but the beauty of the dish is that you can make it the evening before and reheat before your guests arrive. And it is a great way to use up what ever various bits of vegetables or meats (such as ham, sausage or bacon) you have lying around in your fridge. Today I happened to have some broccoli and yellow squash I needed to use up, so into the frittata they went, along with a couple baby bellas and some finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes. I had cheddar cheese on hand, but I have used all different sorts of cheese in the past, varieties of Swiss, feta, even soft cheeses like Brie or chevre. It is an anything goes kind of a dish. I don’t want to forget to mention that my herb garden is already booming, so I made sure to head outside and pick a goodly amount of chives, tarragon, oregano & rosemary. One note to the meat lovers out there: when I make a frittata with bacon, I like to fry the bacon together with the onions and potatoes, rather than layering it with the egg mixture. That way the bacon flavor permeates the whole dish.

Egg and Potato Frittata with Fresh Herbs, Broccoli, Baby Bella Mushrooms, Yellow Squash & Sun-dried Tomatoes

6 large potatoes, cut into small bite sized chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 large (or 1 small) red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped

3 tbsps olive oil

2 tsps fennel seeds

cracked black pepper

garlic powder

1 cup lightly steamed broccoli

4-6 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1 (loosely packed) cup yellow squash. thinly sliced in cut into half moon shape

1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes

12 fresh eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 (8 oz) block extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup fresh chives, snipped

1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano

1 tsp fresh rosemary

2 tsps fresh tarragon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place oil into frying pan and turn heat up to high. Sprinkle fennel seeds into oil; when they start to “pop”, add onions. Saute briefly. When onions begin to turn translucent, stir in red pepper. Add potatoes to pan. Crack fresh ground black pepper over top of potatoes and stir to coat potatoes in oil. Turn heat down to lowest setting and place tight lid on pan.

Meanwhile, prep the vegetables, shred cheese, steam broccoli and set all aside. Cook until potatoes are soft, (about 20 minutes) removing lid every so often to stir potatoes and prevent sticking. Once potatoes are soft, sprinkle garlic powder over potatoes to taste, toss potatoes to coat and turn heat up to high and brown potatoes. Watch closely (they burn easily at this point) flipping potatoes to brown on all sides.

Place cooked potatoes into a greased glass baking pan. Tamp potatoes down lightly (do not break up potato chunks) to create a “crust” on bottom of pan. I use a potato masher to do this. Layer vegetables (broccoli, squash, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes) evenly on top of potatoes.

In a large bowl, crack open eggs and beat lightly. Fold in sour cream and mix until incorporated. Beat in fresh herbs. Now add shredded cheese to the bowl and mix well. Pour egg-cheese mixture evenly over top of potatoes & vegetables. I take a fork and gently create small spaces in between the potatoes to allow some of the egg mixture to “seep” through. Place in oven and bake for approx 40 minutes, until golden brown on top. Allow to set for 10-15 before cutting.

***I used to fry potatoes in a large cast iron skillet, and add vegetables & egg mixture directly to the pan. The cast-iron skillet can then be placed directly in the oven to bake the frittata. This method has all the benefits that cooking in cast iron provides (increasing the iron content of your food, for one thing) AND there is less clean up. I have to say, though, I don’t like the metallic flavor the potatoes take on around the edges when they are baked in the skillet. This is simply a personal preference, and I would certainly advocate cooking in cast-iron if you prefer.

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Shannon Houlihan is a Public Health Nurse in Warren County who spends her free time obsessing about food.

After many years of home cooking and baking, she has determined to master the arts of food preservation including canning, fermenting, charcuterie, and cheese making.

4 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    I have such a crush on Shannon! Glad you are posting at almanack!

  2. Shannon says:

    Ha ha! Well, thank you! All I can say is I hope this isn’t my Uncle Bob. He has been known to shoot a shameless plug my way now and again, but I doubt he’d be this flattering. And try the frittata! If you like the lovely combination of local foods and an obscene amount of cheese, this one is for you.

  3. A wonderful post! We too became hooked on locally raised eggs – from our “egg ladies” in Schroon Lake. Our frittata preparations, however, are much less formal. Every Sunday morning, our weekend guests get treated to “Leftover Frittata” – with farm fresh eggs and the whatever veggies, potatoes, onions, cheeses, and pork products have managed to make it to Sunday morning. Waste not want not!

  4. Dorothy (Bunnie) Muessig says:

    That sounds so good Shannon! The method is a great one with endless possibilities…I’m going to see how I can do it while camping, great way to use up leftovers!

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