The recipe for Ham, Onion and Potato Gratin in the Food section Dec. 30 listed an incorrect amount of dried thyme. The corrected recipe is on the Food section on Page G4.
The festivities are over and you wake up with a sigh of relief -- too soon! Last night's guests are still here, sleeping late and sooner or later a meal will be needed. It is a case for the minimalist approach -- for a minimum of ingredients, the shortest preparation time and, above all, simple, no-risk recipes.
On the face of it, eggs, which can be so tricky to cook, are not an ideal choice, but the Italians have mastered the problem with their version of an omelet, the frittata. To make it, a cooked filling, often of vegetables, is mixed with beaten eggs, then poured into hot butter in a frying pan. Cooking is done without stirring, over a very, very gentle heat -- the frittata will take about 15 minutes to cook. The advantage is it can be left totally unattended. The resulting light brown cake is turned onto a platter and cut in wedges for serving. A nonstick pan ensures the frittata can be turned out easily, but is not essential.
Fillings, as you can imagine, are legion -- bacon, ham, fish, vegetables. Often the frittata is flavored with grated parmesan cheese; olive oil may replace butter, and garlic and herbs are common additions. The following two fillings, one based on zucchini and the other on tomato, are intended as a starting point. Other vegetables such as squash, cooked broccoli or cauliflower could be substituted for the zucchini, and mushroom or fish could be added to the cheese and tomato. (Out of season I find the canned Italian-style plum tomatoes a better bet than pallid winter fruit.)
Most countries have some version of sliced potatoes baked with stock in a shallow dish, whether they are called scalloped potatoes or au gratin. My recipe includes a generous portion of ham, making it a hearty accompaniment to the egg and vegetable frittata. If you double the quantity of ham, the same dish makes a simple main course to serve with salad.
For dessert comes apple stuffed with chocolate and baked with honey or molasses, disparate flavors that marry surprisingly well. In the fall I was in Massachusetts, just north of Boston, and how I envied local cooks. On the roadside, stand after stand was laden with squash, pumpkins, preserves and apples. At one stall I counted 10 different kinds -- mcintosh, red and golden delicious, winesap, empire, spartan, spencer, macoun, russet and cortland -- their names read as a roll call of New England tradition. My local market can offer nothing like that, but among the common varieties, I would recommend granny smith for baking. TIMETABLE
Two approaches can be taken to preparing this meal: either two out of four of the dishes can be made a couple of days ahead, leaving less than an hour's work before brunch, or all the cooking can be done shortly before the meal. If so, it will take about 1 1/2 hours.
Up to two days ahead: Make potato gratin and refrigerate. Bake apples and refrigerate.
Up to four hours before serving: Make fillings for frittate and keep at room temperature.
One hour before serving: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Set the table.
Forty-five minutes before serving: Heat gratin in the oven.
Twenty minutes before serving: Make both frittate and leave them to cook. Put apples in oven to heat.
Just before serving: Turn frittate onto hot platters. ZUCCHINI FRITTATA WITH GARLIC (4 servings)
Be sure to leave the skins on zucchini, both for flavor and color. 6 tablespoons butter 2 onions, thinly sliced Salt and pepper
%1 pound zucchini, thinly sliced
%2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, more to taste
%1 tablespoon chopped parsley
In the frying pan heat half the butter and add the onions with salt and pepper. Cook very gently, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 10-15 minutes. Do not allow onions to burn. Add zucchini and garlic, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini are tender, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in parsley. This filling can be cooked up to 4 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.
To cook frittata: whisk eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper until frothy and completely mixed. Stir in zucchini mixture. Heat remaining butter in frying pan until foaming but not browned. Pour in egg mixture, lower the heat, cover and cook as slowly as possible until center of frittata is set, 12-15 minutes. Turn frittata out onto a warm platter so the browned side is up, cut in wedges and serve at once. TIP: Grated zucchini can be substituted for sliced.
CHEESE FRITTATA WITH TOMATO AND HERBS (4 servings)
Frittata stuffed into pita bread makes a wonderful sandwich. 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or one 2-pound can plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped Salt and pepper
%6 eggs 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs -- basil, oregano, or mint
In the frying pan heat half the oil and add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Note: seasoning may not be needed for canned tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the moisture has evaporated and the tomatoes are quite thick, 10-20 minutes depending on the amount of juice. Season tomatoes to taste. Set aside. They can be cooked up to 4 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.
To cook frittata: whisk eggs in a bowl until frothy and completely mixed. Stir in tomato mixture, cheese, chopped herbs and pepper. Heat remaining oil in frying pan, add egg mixture, and lower the heat. Cook as slowly as possible until center of frittata is set, 12-15 minutes. Turn frittata out onto a warm platter, so the browned side is up. Cut it in wedges and serve at once.
TIP: Be sure to evaporate all the liquid from the tomatoes or you will have a watery frittata. HAM, ONION AND POTATO GRATIN (Serves 8 as an accompaniment, or 6 as a main course.
Be sure to brown the onions thoroughly so the gratin has plenty of flavor. 3 tablespoons meat drippings or oil 1 1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced 3 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced 1/2 pound cooked ham in 1/4-inch julienne 12 teaspoons dried thyme 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped Salt and pepper 1 quart chicken or veal stock, more if needed
In a frying pan heat drippings or oil and add onions. Fry gently, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown, 15-20 minutes. NOTE: Do not cook onions too fast or they will burn.
Oil a shallow baking dish and spread half the potatoes in the bottom. On top spread onions, ham, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. NOTE: Taste the ham -- if it is salty, more salt may not be needed. Spread remaining potatoes on top.
Pour in enough stock to almost cover the potatoes. Bake in a 375-degree oven until tender and well browned, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. If the potatoes become dry during cooking, add more stock. At the end of cooking they should be moist but not soupy.
The gratin can be cooked up to 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Before serving reheat it in a 350-degree oven until very hot, about 35 to 45 minutes. BAKED APPLES WITH MOLASSES OR HONEY (8 servings)
Not everyone likes molasses and it can be replaced by honey if you prefer a sweeter dish. Yogurt or sour cream are good accompaniments. 8 small tart apples, granny smith recommended 4 ounces semisweet chocolate 1/2 cup light molasses or honey 3/4 cup water
Core apples and slit the skin horizontally around the middle of each apple to prevent bursting.
Set the apples in a shallow baking dish. Break squares of chocolate in half and fill each apple with half a square. Spoon molasses or honey over the top and add water to the dish.
Bake apples in a 375-degree oven 45-50 minutes, or until very tender, basting occasionally. Apples can be baked up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Serve them at room temperature or reheat them in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
TIP: the type of apple determines the length of cooking. Staymans, for example, only take 35 minutes.