I remember once when I was watching The View that Whoopi Goldberg declared she detests eggs. She hates everything about them, apparently - the shell they come in, the gooey texture inside of them, and most of all, how they taste. I was in disbelief. To me an egg is the ultimate food chameleon - offering so many options from fried, poached, scrambled, boiled or even straight up raw, if you're into that kind of thing. To me though, there is really one dish where the humble free range egg really shines, and that's this zucchini, pumpkin and potato frittata. I'm not joking when I say I want to FedEx Whoopi a slice. She'd be a born again egg evangelical in no time.
When I was a 'vegetarian' (grounds for exile in an Italian family), a period that lasted five years, my Nonna used to make me frittata. She would cook dinner for the entire family, then make me a separate dish. I actually still cannot believe she was such an effective enabler of my teenage lifestyle choice, by making me this delicious a la carte dish in addition to feeding the rest of the family, but she did! Her soft, fluffy, and supremely filling frittata was pretty much the best thing about being a vegetarian.
Frittata is the Italian equivalent of a quiche, minus the pastry. This frittata recipe is actually a hybrid recipe, taking the best aspects of my Nonna's recipe and combining these with the way my Mum makes it. My Nonna usually makes this version with potatoes only, my mum's addition is the zucchini and pumpkin. Traditionally, you're supposed to eat a slice of it with salad on the side, or pop it into crunchy bread to make a killer sandwich. We like to pair ours with fresh ricotta and a radicchio salad.
Ironically it was my Nonna's meatballs that swayed me back to virtues of a carnivorous life in the end, but sometimes I'll give her mild heart palpitations by faking a return to vegetarianism, just so she makes me my special a la carte dish.
For the frittata
7 eggs (don't ask me why, it's the magic number)
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 brown onion, diced
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
2 potatoes, cut into matchsticks
1 cup pumpkin, cut into matchsticks
Salt and pepper to season
For the side salad
Mixed leaf lettuce leaves
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to season
Fresh ricotta (I've been born and raised with Alba cheese ricotta, you can buy this from your local Italian deli. Bonus: The plastic tub doubles as life-long Nonna tupperware)
Crunchy Italian bread rolls (we got these from Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, but any pasta dura bread would do).
There are two components to making a good frittata – making the eggy mixture just right and frying the vegetables to perfection.
Let's get our vegetables ready first, because if there is one thing I hate doing it is making perfect little matchsticks out of vegetables. My chopping skills are on par with my reverse parallel parking skills – terrible. So I like to get this task out of the way first. Your fine motor skills are probably way better than mine, or you might have a good mandoline slicer you are not afraid to use like me. I go the old school way, slow with a knife, as opposed to my Nonna who is a pretty much a kitchen Samurai. Once the potato, pumpkin and zucchini has been sliced into even matchsticks, put them aside in a bowl.
Now dice your brown onion and crush your clove of garlic. Pop a mid-size fry pan on medium heat and splash a generous amount of olive oil in it. Wait for the oil to heat up before adding the diced onion and crushed garlic. Let the onion caramelise and garlic brown up a bit (the oil should smell fragrant), then add in your pumpkin and potato matchsticks, season them with salt and cracked pepper and cook them until the have slightly but not fully softened. Then add your zucchini matchsticks and about two handfuls worth of chopped parsley. Cook all the vegetables until they are soft and still keep their shape. You may need to add a bit more olive oil during this frying process. Once they are cooked turn off the heat of the stove.
Onto the eggy mixture now. I always LOVE a recipe that requires me to 'whisk' anything, as I imagine I am in some John Hughes or Nora Ephron movie where the protagonist is casually whipping up pancakes or something equally as delicious, with Simple Minds playing in the background. A girl can dream, right? In a large bowl crack your seven eggs, toss in your 1/4 cup of parmesan, and salt and cracked black pepper to season, and whisk away.
Pour all of your cooked vegetables into the bowl with the egg mixture so that the vegetables are evenly coated with the egg. Then add some oil to your fry pan and heat it up again on medium-low heat and add the frittata mix and slowly cook. Cooking it slowly is key as you don't want a burnt bottom, and you want it to evenly cook through. Give the fry pan handle a shake just to make sure the frittata isn't going to stick to the bottom. You'll notice the egg gradually get solid until the top is nearly cooked.
Now put the entire fry pan into a oven-grill and lightly cook/grill the top of the frittata. Take it out when lightly golden, and let it slightly cool down.
To assemble, nonna style
While the frittata is cooling down a bit, it's salad time. We have salad literally with every dish. If I rocked up to my Nonna's house and there was no salad on the table I would actually think there was something seriously wrong. In a small bowl mix 3 handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves, 1/3 of a ball of radicchio thinly sliced, and 1/4 of a red onion sliced paper thin. Add salt and pepper to season, and coat with a generous splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Get some crunchy bread rolls and slice in half, coat the bottom with a thick layer of fresh ricotta, add a slice of frittata and then some dressed salad. Pop the lid on the roll. Attempt to get your mouth around this mammoth sandwich. Clumsily spill some of it on your clothes. Let Nonna get her 'Sard Wonder Stick' stain remover out. Go back to eating, oblivious to all around you.