It’s a sunshine-y, sticky Tuesday in Georgia, and I am getting back on track. I missed y’all last week, but I was tending to important baby-welcoming business. I became an aunt again- for the third time, yay!- and traveled up to South Jersey to lend my family an extra pair of hands. My time there was sweet, and I toggled back and forth between being amazed by the newest bundle of love, all swaddled up and sleepy, and the brilliance exhibited by my five-year-old and three-year-old niece and nephew.
I couldn’t help thinking back to when each of them was so tiny and I had no idea who they would become…and now they sing and dance together, give each other hugs and kisses, and say…well, the darndest things. I’m thankful that I was able to spend a little quality family time and snuggle up the newest addition.
Back at home, I plunged myself into a busy work schedule and, in the evenings, had sort of a reunion tour kind of a week. Hugging my husband after four whole days apart was pretty magical. And then I found myself gathering with friends I hadn’t seen in weeks or months, realizing that summer break is coming to a quick halt for all of my teacher peeps. My life feels so full- warm and lovely- surrounded by quirky, smart, loving, creative, hilarious folks who are in various stages of the adventure we call life. I am one lucky, lucky lady.
When Sunday came, I was excited to get back to the Grant Park Farmers Market. I’d skipped out on two weeks in a row. Gasp!! And, although I had a pretty good idea of what tomato-licious wonder I’d be walking into, I was still elated to feast my eyes on all of these…
I love you. I appreciate having a giant bowl full of you on my table (actually, 2 full bowls). Your diversity tickles me. You are my favorite.
If you are fortunate enough to have an enormous bowl of tomatoes on your table too, here are a few ideas for you to peruse: helter swelter, nola love, more than a crush, time in a bottle, cross cultural, and good and plenty: a story of tomatoes.
Also starring in this week’s market: the last of the peaches.
It’s always sad to say good-bye to the peaches. But, man, they were tasty and juicy this year. I must admit, my favorite application of the peach this season was King of Pop’s Uh-mazing peach pops.
A perfectly peach-tastic frozen treat that nearly made me forget about all the sweating I was doing. I could eat one a day (or maybe two) all summer long.
It’s also okra time these days,
and I am looking forward to making some real, real crispy in the near future.
The potatoes are still rockin’-
and, while I don’t remember them ever being this prevalent, I have had quite a good time preparing them in all kinds of ways.
Oakleaf Mennonite Farm offered samples of these tart and crisp East Atlanta Greenies (a pint of which I pocketed promptly),
and some pretty, sticky figs. Farmer Hudson and I chatted about their affinity for blue cheese, bacon, and balsamic vinegar. Mmmmmm.
Rounding out this mid-July market, there were squash blossoms, onions, fresh peas, and basil,
Nazifa with her borek,
unique and Smurfy mushrooms,
and some ginormous eggplant from Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm.
It was exhilarating to take in the vivid colors and shapes of summertime and to see the fruits of many hard-working farmers’ labor.
This week, Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm’s CSA community will be enjoying said eggplant, plus tomatoes, squash, green bell peppers, basil, and Yukon Gold potatoes. Adam and I got this information on Saturday and spent some serious time brainstorming. We wanted to utilize the eggplant, and we were hell-bent on sharing a different technique than frying or grilling. (But, if we’re honest, fried eggplant is kinda like fried okra- our favorite way to munch down those veggies. I attribute that to the mush-factor that resides in both.)
What we decided to do was to put our own spin on a dish we enjoyed at a friend’s place on Friday. From a cookbook called The Spanish Middle Eastern & African Cookbook, Ross created a Spanish Tortilla. Typically, this dish is sort of like a frittata or omelette with a potato crust, often served as a tapa option- cold or hot. Ross’s version had eggs, cheddar cheese, onions, parsley, and chorizo and it was totally scrumptious. I kept going back to grab “one more slice” as the night dwindled on. Our take embraced more of an Italian vibe, since we had basil and Sweet/Hot Italian Sausage from the Spotted Trotter, along with these wonderful farm fresh ingredients. I hope the Spaniards wouldn’t mind…
As you well know, this is an experimental forum for me…so I’m going to share the steps we took this time, which yielded a luscious and tasty product, along with my notes for improvement. One of the benefits of this dish is that it’s a one-pan wonder. And, you could trade out ingredients based on whatever you have on hand.
We began by browning our meat in a hot cast iron skillet over medium heat. It was a little shy of one pound of ground sausage.
If you don’t have cast iron, you can use another pan that is oven safe. Use a spatula to break up the sausage in the pan and let it brown and render out its fats.
Meanwhile, get to slicing.
I sliced up about half of our huge eggplant thinly, figuring that about 6 slices would create an even layer within our pan. Once sliced, I salted all of the pieces and placed them in a colander. I put a heavy bowl on top to weigh the eggplant down. This part of the process draws out both bitterness and excess moisture from the eggplant. We let it sit for 30 minutes while we built the rest of the dish. If you’ve only got 20 minutes, that will do just fine.
Next, I sliced the potatoes.
We used four smallish Yukon Golds, but the original recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of waxy potatoes, meaning potatoes with low starch levels. Yukon Golds have medium starch content, but placing them in water, even for a few minutes, allows some of those starches to flow out into the water. I think 3 potatoes would have been enough to cover the bottom of our pan, but I wasn’t mad about having a thicker potato layer to form our crust.
While our meat continued to brown and fill my house with amazing aromas, I had time to finish all of my slicing and dicing.
I sliced a large zephyr squash a bit thicker than I sliced the potatoes and eggplant (about 1/2 inch thick), knowing that they would cook quickly. I wanted them to maintain some of their texture in the dish. I diced the green pepper, leaving it in large chunks, and sliced my onions into strips. Well, I used half a red onion and a shallot, because my yellow onion looked sad on the inside when I cut it open. You can use any kind of onion you like in this dish- a white or yellow or purple will work. Slice the equivalent of one whole medium to large onion.
At this point, our sausage had browned beautifully, and we preheated our oven to 400°.
Go ahead and drain your sausage on a paper towel-lined plate before transferring it to a bowl.
Moving right along,
take a minute to pat each potato slice dry. This will prevent splattering in your pan and allow for better cooking. Then, add 2 T olive oil and your potatoes to the pan. Yes, on top of the fat that is left in your pan from the sausage. (This is me following the traditional directions part!)
This portion was a little bit tricky, since we had more potatoes than space on the bottom of the pan. No worries. The Spanish Tortillas directions encourage one to saute the potatoes and onions to soften them and brown them slightly. So, our approach was to let the potatoes chill in a layer for a minute and a half or so, and then use a spatula to toss them. We repeated this method 3 or 4 times, attempting to allow each potato slice some “face time” with the hot pan. Then, we added our onions and proceeded to saute.
Once the onions had begun to soften, just a couple of minutes, we added our green pepper and seasoned the whole lot with salt and pepper.
Potatoes love salt, so, you can add a few generous pinches. Adam was tending to those veggies in the pan, tossing them and turning them to soften their edges.
Meanwhile, I whipped up the egg mixture.
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
big handful flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped- reserve a little bit to garnish the top
2 sprigs of basil leaves, cut into ribbons and then cut in half, so they’re not super long
good pinch of salt (about 1/4 t) and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 Cups cheese- I’d recommend going with 3/4 Cup of a creamy, melty cheese, like Mozzarella and 3/4 Cup of a stinky cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano or Asiago. Mix the 2 cheeses together in a bowl to combine them well. Then, reserve 1/4 Cup of cheese for the top and pour the rest into your egg mixture.
Time to layer! We spread out the potatoes, onions, and peppers along the bottom of the pan.
Next we patted dry each slice of eggplant, and fanned them out on top of the potatoes.*
Then, we added the squash.
*We topped the squash with our sausage- and here’s where I want to put the brakes on. Ross’s traditional Spanish Tortilla finished by pouring over a mixture of the eggs, cheese, and sausage- leaving the majority of the sausage on top, just under the cheese. And it worked perfectly, since his tortilla was broiled quickly. Our frittata was veggie-loaded and needed to spend some time in the oven. Our sausage got a little too crunchy on the top, and I feel like we didn’t quite honor the hard work of our beloved sausage-maker, Kevin Ouzts. What I’d do next time, is sprinkle my sausage on top of my potatoes and under my eggplant, where it would be protected from the heating elements and able to shine in all its sausage glory.
All in the name of experimentation…
Lastly, we poured the egg and cheese mixture over the top, and sprinkled that reserved 1/4 Cup of cheese all over. We placed the pan in the oven and baked for about 30 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready, because your cheese will become golden brown and bubbly.
Oh, hello cheesy, summer-veggie-laden goodness! You look like you want to get into my belly real bad.
Now, onto serving this family style dish…If you wanted to, you could slice and serve it straight out of the cast iron skillet, as plenty of folks do with cornbread. If you have employed a pan with rounded sides, you may be able to slide it right on out onto a cutting board, which would be perfect for service. What we ended up doing was the plate-flip method of loosening the edges with a spatula and placing a plate (in this case a sheet pan) over the top of the pan and carefully flipping the frittata out. Then we flipped it back over onto our serving platter and sprinkled it with fresh flat leaf parsley.
We used a sharp knife to slice this pie into pieces, and carefully transferred a couple of wedges onto our plates.
From this angle, you can see how the potatoes and cheese work together to form a delectable crust, much like a pizza. And there were times while we were eating it, when it really felt like pizza- the way all of the components mingled together, stacked up. In this dish, the eggplant’s “mush-factor” I spoke of earlier worked in a genius manner. It was supple, moist, and melty. The onions were so sweet and soft- they were divine. The squash did maintain some of its crisp texture, which I loved. The sharpness of our Asiago cheese and the salty, spicy qualities of the sausage played perfectly against the sweetness of the onions and the potatoes. Those potatoes were outstanding. When it was time for clean-up, I found myself picking around the edges of the pan where little bits of potato and cheese had strayed…into my mouth.
We served our Spanish/ Italian Tortilla alongside a simple salad of fresh local arugula and tomatoes drizzled with a touch of olive oil. It didn’t need anything else.
It was quite a satisfying dinner. And breakfast the next day, for that matter. Mmm, I should go have some for lunch!
I think this dish would work famously to feed a crowd. And I love that it all cooks in one pan. Yes, there are steps to take along the way, but they’re not difficult, and they will lead you to deliciousness. Try it out, and let me know how you make yours unique!
I hope this post finds you staying cool and enjoying yourself. I wonder what you’ve been cooking up- or not cooking – to nourish you and yours dinner in the July heat. I hope your hands have been sticky with watermelon juice and that you are beginning to entertain the possibility of tiring of tomato sandwiches. (NEVER!!!!!) Make yourself a BLT on some really amazing bread one night this week, and let the tomato juice drip down your cheeks while the toast scratches up the insides of your mouth. You’re gonna love it!!!
I appreciate you coming along for the ride with me today and listening to my musings. I look forward to conjuring up our next seasonal meal and sharing it with you.
Happy cooking and eating,
The second time I made this dish, I followed my own advice by using a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, tucking my sausage under the eggplant, and I actually added an extra egg to the mix too. It turned out swimmingly well! Hooray!!!!!!