07 August 2008
New Potato Frittata with Ajvar
My favorite way to cook is to use the freshest ingredients I have on hand from trips to farmers markets and specialty stores and combine them in unexpected ways. To get there, I rely on the storehouse of recipes and techniques in my head, compiled from years of cooking, eating at great restaurants, and learning from clever friends who also like to obsess over food.
This particular dish, New Potato Frittata with Ajvar, I made last night in addition to the green salsa and mojitos (recipes found in last post). The point was to use up what I had in my cupboards, while also blending the flavors of the salsa into the frittata so that the transition from the Mexican appetizer to my French-inspired dish made sense on the tongue.
The technique for this dish is adapted from a dish my host mom in Aix-en-Provence, the lovely Danielle Lellouche, made for supper several times. I learned so much by watching her in the kitchen. A deeply practical woman, she was traditional French only when it came to cooking for her family every night. To make it happen, she had no qualms taking shortcuts. In her version, she would use pre-diced frozen potatoes and pre-grated gruyère cheese, and would serve it with a simple salad and crusty baguette. It's the simplicity of French food that makes it so great.
Since this is such a comfort food, I somewhat arbitrarily paired it with one of my favorites side dishes from another one of my home countries, Serbia. Although the combination of Mexican, French, and Serbian sounds a bit strange, it works because the flavors of each ingredient blends so well with the rest. Really, this kind of cooking is a way to celebrate being a citizen of the world by recognizing the common threads that hold otherwise disparate traditions together.
Ajvar (pronounced: EYE-var) is a gorgeous vegetable spread primarily made from red peppers, augmented by a crush of other flavors such as garlic, chili peppers, eggplant, and sometimes zucchini. It's all blended together into a relatively smooth but thick sauce that's great with bread for a snack or as a delicious complement to other dishes. Here's the wikipedia article on it. I first ate it while living in Serbia, where every grandmother has her secret recipe. It's found all over the Balkans, and a Russian friend told me they have their own version too. It sent me over the moon to find a jar of the stuff at a local grocery store yesterday! The 19 ounce jar is already almost empty... Yet I feel far from guilty as it's made primarily out of vegetables. The jar I have cites that each serving contains a measly 10 calories - yet it's so satisfying! The taste is as vibrant as its bright orange-red color, and it's usually found slightly piquant, although mild and very spicy varieties are also available. It's perfect for perking up any dish (and having more veggies in your diet). One of these days I want to try making my own homemade version. Perhaps Cinnamon Jones and and I can convince her Serbian grandmother or aunts to give us their recipes...
NEW POTATO FRITTATA WITH AJVAR
- Start with 2 pounds of new potatoes. Wash them well, and keep the skin on if you can, the taste and texture is great. I used a mix of the red and white skinned varieties and cut them all into irregular, 1-inch pieces.
- half a large yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped irregularly
- 2 small jalepeños, chopped finely
- 5 eggs
- a loosly packed cup of grated cheese of your choice. I used an extra sharp cheddar because I had it on hand, but a monterey jack or gruyère would also be tasty in here.
- a handful of chopped cilantro to garnish the top
(also needed: olive oil, salt, pepper, water)
Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, and parboil the cut potatoes for 3-4 minutes. You want them almost cooked all the way through. Drain them and let them sit in the colander for a few minutes to steam dry.
Preheat your oven to about 425˚F at this point
Meanwhile, heat up about 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet. (We're using more oil than usual to have enough to brown the potatoes beautifully later). Over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, and jalepeño along with a seasoning of a couple pinches of salt until the onions are translucent and the ingredients have started to melt together. Spread the potatoes evenly across the bottom of the pan, turn up the heat, and let them sit there untouched for a minute or two until they are golden brown and crispy on the underside and you can flip them over.
While you're waiting for the potatoes to crisp up on all sides, beat together 5 eggs with 2 tablespoons of water, all the cheese, with salt and pepper to taste. Once the potatoes are ready, pour the egg mixture into the pan to fill in the gaps between the potatoes, binding it all together. Let cook for a few minutes.
Now, because the top layer of egg in the frittata can't cook when the heat source is at the bottom of the pan, we transfer the pan to the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, until the top is just beginning to get a crisp to the fluff of the egg and cheese mixture. My dad would always finish his famous omelettes this way in the oven with an extra handful of cheese. As soon as you take the frittata out of the oven, sprinkle the coriander on top, so that it can melt into the top crust that will continue to congeal in the next 2 minutes.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor cut into wedges with a generous dollop of ajvar!