Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pasta Frittata

Menu plans come first, then an ingredient list and finally a shopping trip. That would happen in an orderly world, but not in my kitchen this week. We moved back ashore, have been here for almost two weeks, but haven't quite transitioned mentally. For example, in the boat galley I know the exact location and quantity of foodstuffs, tracking them all with an Excel spreadsheet. But here in the house, life has been considerably more random. Three shopping trips in three days was fun, great retail therapy, but I was still scrambling meal by meal, short of ideas and some basic supplies.

I needed a plan: First use up fresh items or leftovers in the fridge. Next take inventory of staples.  Organize the cupboards, leaving a shelf or two for our special houseguest's items. Then deal with menu plans and a shopping list.

Note to self, "begin with small steps".  I opened the refrigerator door, scanned the shelves and waited for inspiration to strike... and waited... and waited. Nothing drew my attention. What was I expecting?  little waving arms like over-eager students calling "Pick me, pick me!"? No, not happening. I hoped for an "Aha!" moment, some irresistible combination utilizing a bit of this and a piece of that to create a satisfying one-dish meal. Finally I pulled the following out of the fridge and pantry...
  • Fettucini - extra left from a spicy pasta dish with peppers and sausage
  • Assorted cheeses, vegetables and toppings - left from a pizza-making party
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fresh basil 
  • Salt, pepper, dried herbs and various hot sauces
A pasta frittata was my solution. You know, good old spaghetti pie, but without the red sauce. My oldest and clearest memory of this dish comes from an ancient Frugal Gourmet television show. The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian provided a simple recipe and I have used that easy, two-step process in the decades since. 
  • Step One: saute some savory filling ingredients in a skillet, and then plop them into a large mixing bowl. 
  • Step Two: Add a few eggs, selected seasonings and some cooled, cooked pasta to the bowl; toss to mix and return to the skillet to cook until the bottom is browned; then flip and brown the other side.  

That's it, a pasta frittata. The real beauty of this dish is it's versatility. You can cook it on the stovetop or bake it in the oven. It welcomes a multitude of add-ins, yet is quite delicious with a bare minimum of eggs, cheese and pasta. Use this dish to feed a few, or stretch it with more pasta and eggs to feed a crowd. Pasta frittata is an old friend and could become a regular in my kitchen.

Friday’s Pasta Frittata
serves 6-8

Step One: The basic fillings
2 TB olive oil or an olive oil/butter mix
1 cup crunchy vegetables, diced small  (red pepper, poblano pepper, corn, broccoli, onions…)
Garlic to taste
1 cup cooked meat, chopped or shredded (bacon, sausage, rotisserie chicken, maybe even canned tuna) - optional

Step Two: For the pie
Savory additions (olives, capers, pepperocini, sun dried tomatoes…)
4 cups cooked long pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettucine…)
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Dairy (milk, cream or half and half)
Dash of nutmeg or a splash of hot sauce
1/4 cup shredded fresh Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

Optional Toppings:
2 TB each fresh basil and Italian parsley, julienned
Another 1/4 cup shredded fresh Parmesan

Step One:
Heat the oil in a large 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat and saute any raw vegetables for 3-5 minutes, until they just begin to lose their crispness. Add the fresh garlic and cook another minute or two longer until fragrant. Add any remaining Step One ingredients, like cooked vegetables, carmelized onions, optional cooked meat. Mix and cook just to heat. Remove to a large bowl.

Step Two:
Add the Step Two ingredients to the bowl and toss to blend, coating each pasta strand with the egg mixture. Reheat the skillet and add everything in the bowl to the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden brown. Place a large plate over the skillet and carefully turn the skillet over so the frittata rests on the plate. Carefully slide the pie back into the skillet and brown the second side.

Top with more Parmesan, fresh basil and parsley. Serve wedges from the skillet or a platter, warm or at room temperature.

Note: This approach works with almost any savory filling, but it was a memorable failure with leftover clam linguine. The flavor was too strong and the reheated clams were quite tough. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

My iPhone Exercise - Part 2

A small step forward...

Setting: Columbia City Ale House, noon, 30+ feet from a large window, bright day 
Image: Swordfish Bruschetta

iPhone 4: HDR on 
The two images below are shown as shot, without any Photoshop adjustments.

I shudder to recall my first iPhone photo (link), that dark, grainy, mushy-focused image. This week we met friends at the same restaurant and swordfish bruschetta was still on the menu. There was my chance to reshoot the photo in improved conditions and to rethink the transfer process. 

We arrived early and chose a table near the restaurant's front window. Poor lighting would not be an excuse for another drab image. I cautioned myself to shoot a few pictures before I put fork to plate or became totally engrossed in conversation. After all, we four had interesting stories to share.

Time after time, the HDR setting clicked off two quick shots of the same photo (as shown above) at two different exposures. They looked bright on the iPhone screen, much better than that first shot of last week. So far, so good. 

The next step was to connect the phone to the computer. Easy enough to plug in the cord, but the iPhone didn't show up listed as a device on the Mac's Finder window. Why did I expect that it would? I'm accustomed to the camera and external drives showing up that way. It seemed that would be logical, but it didn't happen that way. Eventually I thought to open the application iPhoto. After that it was mindlessly easy to import the photos, but challenging to locate the file where they had been stored. Okay, one step at a time.  

I found the photos and was able to move them to another location where other software could access them. The picture quality was greatly improved with this method compared to the previous iPhone-email transfer process. Better lighting and direct upload made a huge difference... I wonder which one had greater impact. TBD

This is a work in progress, until I find the magic shortcut that someone has posted online somewhere.  For now, I'm encouraged to keep shooting with my iPhone. I'll try out a few apps and use it when a larger camera would get in the way. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I love this time of year! Vine maples begin turning from deep green to a vibrant orange and red. They're always the first to signal the new season. Dahlias and chrysanthemums add strong, warm color to the yard, and also signal football tailgating season. (Go Dawgs!) Remember those huge pompom mum corsages? The transition from summer to autumn is visible in the landscape and at the market. Peppers and chiles call my name, vine-ripened tomatoes tempt me, and braids of garlic promise to add a sweet, hot punch to any dish.

Peppers, chiles, tomatoes, garlic - you know that leads to gazpacho, a wonderful cold, salad-like soup that bursts with flavor. On a warm, Indian summer sort of day gazpacho is the perfect way to enjoy ripe vegetables without heating up the kitchen... or having to work very hard. You chop a lot, stir a little, and presto! you have gazpacho. 

We enjoy it as an easy appetizer, light but satisfying while waiting for the coals to heat up in the barbecue. Pair a shrimp-topped bowl of gazpacho and a platter of quesadillas and you have a filling lunch or light supper.  

Influenced by a recipe in Jake’s Seafood Cookbook, McCormick & Schmick, 1991
Serves 4 bowls or 6 small cups.

2 TB chopped garlic
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, no crusts
3 cups low-sodium V-8 juice
1 poblano pepper, small dice
2 red or yellow peppers, small dice
4 tomatoes, peel, seed and dice
1/2 medium onion or a handful of scallions, small dice
1 cucumber, peel, seed and dice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 TB red wine vinegar
1 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce

Optional Toppings:
8 oz small shrimp
diced avocado
fresh cilantro or parsley, coarsely chopped
  1. Combine garlic, bread crumbs, half of the V-8 juice and half of the green pepper, tomatoes, onion and cucumber in a food processor and puree. 
  2. In a pitcher or bowl, combine the puree with the remaining V-8 juice, diced veggies, oil, vinegar and seasonings. Blend with a spoon. Soup should be thick, chunky and slightly glossy from the oil.
  3. If fresh or frozen shrimp are not available, top with fresh cilantro or parsley, cubed avocado or commercial salsa  (Do not use canned shrimp!! They’re nasty.) 
On the boat, when fresh vegetables aren't always available, I have used canned tomatoes, chopped garlic in a jar and jars of roasted red peppers to substitute for fresh. The substitutions work just fine, as long as there is some crunch from scallions, celery, cucumber or whatever fresh vegetables are available. Fresh or frozen corn has even made an occasional appearance. Frozen pepper strips are too soft to add much texture, but will work to flavor the puree. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

An iPhone Exercise

Photo Number One

Setting: Columbia City Ale House, weekday evening, very dim light
Image: Swordfish Bruschetta

I am very late to the party it seems. The whole world is light years ahead, using their smartphones for photography. Actually taking a photo isn't difficult... once I locate the shutter... if my hand doesn't shake... if there's adequate lighting... if my arm is long enough...  No, the challenge is dealing with "What comes next?" What's the most efficient way to move the image from the iPhone to a computer? 

Don't tell me to just plug it in! I did that, but the computer didn't show the device. Now what?

This morning I forgot the next step, if I ever knew it or read it in the manual. Thus the above image is the result of e-mailing the photo to myself as a JPG file, actual size, and opening it in Photoshop for a little cropping. The iPhone image was horribly dark on my phone screen, but opened much brighter on the computer monitor. What happened there? Is the graininess due to the low light in the restaurant? or the selection of "actual size" instead of a reduced format when attached to an e-mail? or something else?

Back to the manual for this simple process, before I pester RL for quick directions. Perhaps I should begin with a return trip to to CCAH for lunch.  This would be for research purposes you understand, to reshoot the Swordfish Bruschetta in brighter light, maybe near a window. This time I could take the photo before I eat so much of it. 

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