Fennel & St. Jorge Frittata

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Omelets are my culinary Achilles heel.  I might be at the point where I’ve officially just given up on omelets altogether and that could explain my affinity for frittatas.  You still have that wonderful beaten and set eggy-ness of an omelet but without all the fuss of flipping and sticking….which is generally where I, as well as the omelet, fall flat.  One day, I promise you, I will literally learn the idiot’s guide to making omelets and I’ll share that secret with anyone who happens to be in the same boat as I am and just can’t bear to choke down another ruined breakfast.  In the mean time, however, it’s all about the bake.

Mike and I were at the cottage last weekend.  It was a short but well needed respite.  I realized that I had to start booking in “alone time” weekends when our calendar started to get unruly.  As it stands, the next time that we’ll actually have a weekend together, just the two of us (“…and we can make out if we try!  Just the two of uh-uh-US, you and I-I-I….”) will be, um, mid November.  Sigh.  Have you ever spent a Friday night eating ice cream in your underwear and feeling sorry for yourself because you felt like you had no life?  I have too….but now I miss those glorious days of freedom.

Anyway, I digress.  We were at the cottage which means that most of what we ate was easy, effortless comfort food with robust or seasonal flavors.  It also means that the lighting is so bad that I might as well have been baking in the Catacombs, but you take the good with the bad.

Alright, well I’m rubbish with omelets but frittatas are where I’m a viking, I figure that I can at least give you some tips on that:

1.  Try to use a heavy, thick pan which conducts heat evenly.  Also, because the frittata will be finished in the oven you want to use a pan which is oven safe (ie., no flimsy plastic handles).  My favorite choice is an ancient cast iron which has been seasoned six ways to Sunday after years of frying eggs.  I’ve tried making frittatas in non-stick “omelet pans”, which further cemented my hatred of cooking eggs.  If a non-stick works for you, well, feel free.   I just don’t bother anymore, and if turns out that teflon coating really IS carcinogenic, I will feel somewhat vindicated in my distaste….but I’ll also probably have cancer, so it will be a short lived victory.

2.  Use oil and do so liberally.  Make sure that the bottom and sides of your pan are well oiled before you add the eggs.

3.  Start the frittata over the element which is set to a moderately high heat.  You can jiggle it, wiggle it, and poke around a bit in the center but try not to scrape the bottom or sides of your pan as this could cause the eggs to stick.  As soon as the eggs start to set around the edges, take it off the direct heat and finish cooking it over moderate heat in the oven.

4.  Even if I saute vegetables for the frittata, I like to take them out and add back into the eggs after I’ve got a seal on the bottom and sides.  Sometimes if the egg is poured directly on top of the vegetables they’ll start to caramelize and stick to the pan which makes the frittata harder to remove.

5.  You can add the cheese as soon as your frittata goes into the oven, but it’s going to sink into the eggs and you’ll end up with a loose and gooey frittata which is hard to cut.  I prefer to wait until the frittata is almost set all the way through but still jiggly and a bit loose in the center before I add the cheese.

And finally,

6.  If  you let your cooked frittata meditate under a loose tent of foil for few minutes, the eggs will firm up and not fall apart as easily when you cut and dish it out.

Fennel & St. Jorge Frittata

Serves 4-6

  • 1 medium fennel bulb
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tbsp cold water
  • 1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
  • few small sprigs of fresh tarragon (2 tsp chopped) *
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 100 g (3/4 cup) St. Jorge cheese **
  • salt and pepper to taste

* If you don’t have fresh tarragon, feel free to use 1 tsp of dried.

** St. Jorge (also known as Queijo São Jorge) is a semi-hard raw cow’s milk cheese from Portugal.  In appearance, the cheese has a light straw color and can either be dense and firm with a smooth texture or just slightly softer and with tiny ‘eyes’.  The initial flavor of St. Jorge is complex, rather sharp and almost floral – I almost get a bit of tingly-tongue if I eat too much of it (which happens regularly).  You won’t find authentic St. Jorge on Aunt Sally’s cheese tray, to say the least.  Although it can be aromatic, it’s not a ‘stinky’ cheese, and in my opinion St. Jorge is the glory of a cheese tray for dessert when it’s served with caramelized apples with a peppery and full bodied red, or especially fresh pears and a tawny Port or Madeira.  If you can’t find St. Jorge, a good substitute could be fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or even Asiago which has a nuttier flavor.  If you were looking for a slightly milder cheese, Spanish Manchego would be a good choice.

Okay, so I just spent a lot of time talking about cheese, but cheese is kind of on my mind right now.  I’ve been in contact with 3 of my favorite fromageries in Toronto to talk about a tiered cheese wedding cake for our upcoming nuptials next year.  I’m kind of leaning towards Leslieville Cheese Market because they’ve had the best customer service (not to point fingers, Olympic…hint hint…), a stellar selection, and I know that they’ll work with me to craft the perfect cheese “cake”….complete with ribbons and other decorative accoutrement, because of course I asked them about their capabilities.  You know what I don’t like to do?  Leave things to chance, that’s what.  And if due diligence includes frequent correspondence and a reference check for every vendor I consider, well, so be it.  Realistically, there are things that will go horrendously wrong need to be tweaked on the big day.  I know that, and I’m okay with that.  But any pro-active prevention measures that I can take, well, I’m all over them.

Bridezilla and her thunderous cheese-padded thighs continues to lumber down Yonge Street during what will soon be known by all as Tina’s 14 Month Reign of Terror.

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Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Cut the fronds and arms off of the fennel bulb and just shave off the bottom of the thick, discolored base.  You want to leave the actual fennel intact or it won’t hold together, so be sure to only shave off about 1/8″.

Cut the fennel vertically in half and then slice each half into 4-6 wedges, depending on size.  Each wedge should be between 1/2-3/4″ thick.  Drizzle the fennel wedges with olive oil and slide them about on their front and their backs until they’re well coated with oil and the baking sheet is greased.  Season the fennel lightly with salt and pepper and tuck it into the lower half of your oven.

Roasting fennel tempers the  flavor so instead of being a hard licorice taste you end up with a mellow and slightly herbal sweetness.  If you love the anise scented charm of fennel, however, take heart!  The chopped tarragon will play the same tune straight through the frittata, and add a nice fresher fennel-dy-dee to the eggs.

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Take the fennel out when it is so soft that it’s just barely holding together, and the edges are browned.  Leave the oven on at the same temperature.

In the mean time, set an 8″ heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with the remaining 1.5 tbsp of olive oil.  Turn your pan so that the oil has covered the entire interior, and you can even use a corner of paper towel to spread the oil evenly up the sides if you want.  However you do it, make sure that puppy is well greased so the frittata doesn’t stick.

Whisk together the 8 eggs, Dijon mustard and 2 tbsp of water in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Chop the tarragon and whisk this into the egg mixture.

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Pour the eggs into your preheated pan and gently move them around on the outskirts and into the center (not touching the pan) until a solid crust of egg starts to form around the edges.  You may even be able to see the eggs bubble up in the middle at this point.  If so, consider yourself lucky.  If not, well, just wing it and pretend.

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Carefully but quickly lay down your roasted fennel pieces into a concentric design.  You will want to be careful when doing this, as the soft and roasted fennel will be inclined to deteriorate into leaves when it’s lifted.  Don’t let the fennel have that kind of satisfaction, and just use a gentle touch.

As an alternative, you could chop the roasted fennel up before you add it to the eggs.  Sure, you’d lose a bit in terms of the presentation, but it would certainly be easier to eat without having to cut through a fennel wedge.  Either way, the choice is yours.

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Tuck the pan into the center of your hot oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the eggs are set most of the way through and just slightly loose in the middle.

Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of shredded St. Jorge cheese.

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Turn up the heat to a broil and put the frittata-to-be back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes or until the eggs are set and the bubbly melted cheese is just starting to brown.

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Let the frittata rest, tented loosely with tin foil for just a few minutes before cutting into it.  This will allow the eggs to firm up and finish setting, and make sure that your cheese doesn’t turn the frittata into a pile of goo.

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Slice the frittata into wedges to serve, trying to aim your knife between the fennel slices so the pieces lift out cleanly.

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Cottage dining is not…uh….extravagant, to say the least.  The hearty frittata with licorice scented fennel and tarragon, draped in a thin coating of sharp and pungent St. Jorge cheese, was served alongside some buttery black pepper and honey scones and slabs of fresh watermelon.  This is just the kind of breakfast that you need to get you going for a big day of lying on the dock and reading celebrity magazines in your sweatpants.

Ah, I love the cottage.

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  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    A whole cake made of cheese? I thought you were joking when you said that a while back. That’s awesome. I am having wedding jealousy.

    I had to learn how to make omelets in culinary school, and our instructor fucked his up 3 (THREE) times before he managed to come up with a reasonable version of an omelet. Then he tried to pretend we hadn’t done something correctly with his setup (lies). So it’s not just you, it’s pretty much everyone.

  • Hellcat13

    First: I suck the mighty big one at making omelets too. I can cook pretty much anything, but omelets turn out burnt, stuck to the pan, and generally a mess. Chris, on the other hand, is a freaking omelet GENIUS. It drives me insane that the man who ate nothing but canned soup, microwaved popcorn, and Wendy’s baked potatoes before he met me can make a light, fluffy, perfectly browned omelet without hesitation. I’ll have to try my hand at this frittata.

    Second: I really need to invest in a cast-iron pan so that I can actually make the frittata. It’s almost embarrassing that I don’t own one.

    Finally: A cheese cake? A FREAKING CHEESE CAKE??? What does a random internet stranger have to do to get in on THAT action? Seriously, best idea EVER. Please post many, many photos.

  • Lisa K

    I just had to say: the idea of cheese cake is AWESOME. I am totally going to steal that idea. One day. I really really want to learn more about this.