Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Peppers and Eggs (technically it's a Frittata)

Pepper and Egg Fritatta served on a Grilled Ham Steak
One of the things my mother used to make frequently was what she called "Peppers and Eggs" - which was a little odd since it also contained potatoes, and sometimes leftover sausage too. This is basically a fritatta - an over-sized, open faced, omelette that is generally served in slices like a pie or quiche rather than whole - almost an egg pie with a variety of fillings. My mother's version was basically a way to make a meal out of a few leftover baked potatoes and/or leftover sausages combined with some freshly sauteed onions and peppers. The version I'm describing here is meant as a side dish, or a companion to a piece of meat (or just as breakfast by itself!). I'm focusing on the vegetables and potatoes, so if we serve it with a piece of meat - such as a grilled ham steak- we have a complete and filling meal.

My mom's original used leftover, already cooked potatoes diced up and tossed in. Since I'm starting with fresh potatoes, the first thing I'm going to do is pre-cook the potatoes. I'm going to start with about four small to medium potatoes, and shred them so they'll cook faster. I have a salad shooter available (remember those things!) so I can easily shred them in minutes- if you have to do this the hard way, just slice or dice them into the smallest pieces you can manage- don't worry about getting pretty regular shaped pieces, just get the smallest pieces you can manage to keep the cooking time reasonable.

Take a hot pan, grease with a little olive oil or cooking spray, and cook your shredded/chopped potatoes with a little salt and pepper. They do not need to be fully cooked, but should be at least 3/4 cooked. If you've shredded yours down like mine, they're pretty much ready when the majority of the shreds have begun to brown. The browning is a good thing- since that will add to the flavor, but you don't want to go all the way to crunchy- so that the potatoes are soft and combine nicely with the eggs. When the potatoes are done to your liking, set them aside, we'll come back to them later.

So next, we'll want to chop our vegetables- as the name of the dish implies, we will need some peppers- so I'll start with two green bell peppers. Feel free to use whatever type of peppers you prefer- as long as they are the best quality, and most fresh peppers you can find. I like mine cut into small strips- you can cut yours however you like- as long as the pieces are relatively small so they cook relatively quickly - we'll need to cook the peppers until they are soft, which may take a while if you use too large a cut.

We'll also need onions. As with many classic Italian-American dishes, peppers and onions sauteed in olive oil form the base of flavor for the whole dish. Again, you can cut your onions however you like, as long as the pieces are relatively small to keep them from taking too long to cook. You can also use whatever type of onion you prefer- standard yellow onions are fine- others, such as red onion, may have more bite to them, so you can tailor things to your preference a little here. In general- go with whatever type of onion looks the freshest- for me, the sweet vidalia onions  were looking pretty good, and were on sale, so I'll have more sweetness, and a little less bite than normal- it's more important to get the best produce you can than anything else. You'll need about one small onion (or half of a large onion) - mine are cut into a medium dice.

The basic idea for this dish is very flexible- starting with your base of peppers, onions, and potatoes, you can add almost anything you'd like (sausage is a good one!)- as long as you don;t go too overboard. I'm going to serve this as a side for a piece of meat, so I'm keeping mine vegetarian. I have a few nice plumb tomatoes available, so I'll dice up about two of them - they'll add a little color, and are something that goes well with peppers and onions. If you're using tomatoes, you can't go wrong by using basil...

Basil from the Garden - it was alive and growing 30 seconds before hitting the cutting board...
You'll want to have some kind of herb to flavor things, and basil is always a perfect complement to tomatoes. I have quite a bit of fresh basil growing in the backyard, so you really can't pass up something so fresh it was literally a live plant 30 seconds before becoming food. Basil is VERY easy to grow- just buy a few seedlings from your local garden center (or start them from seeds). All you have to do is plant them in a spot that gets a lot of sun, and give them plenty of water, and have enough patience to not pick it all in one shot, and you'll have an ample supply of fresh basil. If you're new to gardening, and have an interest, basil is an easy herb to get started with.

While you don't really need to make your basil pieces pretty, it's very easy to make an attractive cut into nice ribbons.. Just take a handful of leaves off the stem- about 6 to 8 will do, roll them up into a tight cylinder and slice it with a sharp knife. Even if you have questionable knife skills like me, it should be fairly easy to get nice attractive ribbons of basil- even if they aren't 100% even or perfect. The french call this a "chiffonade" - but I'm not French, so I'll just say I'm cutting it into ribbons... If your basil is very fresh, the edges of the cuts will be noticeably dark in color, and almost dripping with fragrant basil oils. You'll probably start to smell that distinctive basil aroma as soon as you start chopping.

The last thing you'll need are about six or seven eggs, scrambled with a little milk or cream. Beat them until they are frothy, and have a lot of air incorporated, then set them aside. You'll want to beat them again right before you actually use them.

We'll need to start heating up a pan, and pre-heating the oven to about 350 degrees. You can use a normal round saucepan (provided it's big enough) if it has a heat-resistant handle- since we'll be putting the whole thing in the oven. Some handles will survive without damage if covered in foil- but if you're not confident about that, you can easily use a deep metal baking dish instead. Heat up the pan on the stove over medium heat with a liberal coating of olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, you are ready to start.

Add your onions and peppers to the pan, and season with salt and pepper. Be patient- even with the peppers cut into small strips, it will still take some time to get them soft. You'll want the peppers and onions moving so they don't burn- so be prepared to stir them with a wooden spoon every minute or two. In about ten to fifteen minutes, the onions should begin to carmelize (a little brown is good, black is bad!), and the peppers should be soft. If you (like my Mom) prefer your  peppers to be softened almost down to a paste- keep going as long as you wish, just make sure not to burn the onions.

Once the peppers and onions are done to your liking, you can add the tomatoes and basil. You'll want to cook these for a short time (two or three minutes will do), while stirring just to warm them up and give the flavors a chance to get to know each other. When you're happy with this stage, give it a taste and adjust your salt and pepper a little if needed. This is the part that should fill the kitchen with that welcome scent of tomato and basil. If you get that smell, you know you've got enough basil. If you walk into a home, and it smells like this, you know there's someone in the kitchen who loves Italian food.

Take the pre-cooked potatoes we set aside earlier. Now it's their turn to go into the pan. Mix them up well with the vegetables and give them a minute to absorb a little oil and flavor. The potatoes may soak up all of the remaining olive oil in the pan- and you'll need that oil to keep the eggs from sticking, so it may be wise to add a little more olive oil at this stage. This is probably the last chance you'll get to adjust your seasoning, so give your mixture a quick taste and add a little salt and/or pepper if needed.

Make sure your potatoes and vegetables are combined well- once we pour in the eggs, you'll only have a few seconds to continue stirring, so you'll want to even things out now. Take your six or seven scrambled eggs, and beat/whisk them a little more to make sure they're still on the frothy side, then pout them in. Quickly stir the mixture so the egg gets distributed evenly- you'll only have a few seconds to do this before the eggs begin to set so be ready for it. This is also a good opportunity to top with cheese if you wish (or even a pinch or two of crushed red pepper if you like a little heat). I like to keep mine simple and sprinkle on a little grated parmesan cheese. Let the whole thing cook on the stove top until the eggs  are mostly set, but still runny on top, then transfer the entire pan to the oven to finish.

Bake the frittata/omelette until the eggs are completely set, and the top is slightly brown and firm to the touch. You should be able to cut the frittata into squares (or pie slices if you used a round pan) and lift them out with a spatula without too much scraping and sticking if you used enough oil. You should have what is basically a cake of potato and vegetables bound together with scrambled egg. If you used a round pan, and your frittata is thick enough, you should be able to flip the pan over onto a plate and extract the whole thing in one shot. Either way, you should end up with a nice cake-like piece of frittata easily served as a main dish, a breakfast, or as a side dish.

Pepper and Egg Frittata, good on it's own or as a side dish


  1. Love Frittata this looks hearty as heck... your mom taught you well!

  2. Thanks, using that much potato shredded that small makes it fairly dense- it really works for just about any meal - it made a great breakfast the next morning.