Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata | Cooking With Bells On

My First CSA + Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Frittata

A strange dichotomy has taken root within me lately. It has been nearly a year and a half since I moved to New York, a city I love without rival and have dreamed of living in since the first time I read Catcher in The Rye. Yet, despite the fact that I now call this urban capital home, my values are shifting in a decidedly rural direction. I live in the city that never sleeps, but I generally don’t stay up much past sunset and wake with the crack of dawn; outside my front door is nothing but concrete for miles in each direction, but I yammer on about needing to go to the park just so I can dig my toes into the grass; this city grants me access to any ingredient in the world, but I still dream of having a garden of my own to grow fresh, unadulterated produce.

My shifting values don’t imply that I’m leaving New York any time soon – I still am in love with this city and all its diversity and opportunity – but they do increasingly require that I make a special effort to integrate my fantasy of living off in the mountains with the reality of city life. To that end, I’m making a habit of early weekend morning trips to Prospect Park, where I can let my dog off leash to chase squirrels with abandon as I relax to the soundtrack of chirp-inflected silence. Critically, I also try to get my food from local farms (and ranches, and fisheries) as much as possible.*

Farmer’s markets are a good way begin sourcing food locally, but recently I decided to deepen my commitment by joining a CSA. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is basically a co-op that you can buy into wherein you become a shareholder in a farm (or community of farms) for a season. You generally pay up front, helping to finance the farm, and collect dividends weekly or biweekly as the produce is harvested.** The benefits to this sort of arrangement are many. With our CSA, we get a weekly delivery of vegetables (sometimes so many that we have to preserve some for future use), the assortment of which is more diverse than can be found in most grocery stores. The vegetables are incredibly fresh, bright in color and crisp in texture. And, top top it all off, our CSA saves us money. Though the $750 charge up front is a hard pill to swallow, spread out over the 25 weeks we’ll be receiving a produce box from now until November, it has actually cut our produce bill down to only $30 a week.

Interesting as this all is (to me, and only me, right?), I know you all really just want to know about that tasty frittata from the picture I teased you with up at the top. Okay, fair enough. That particular dish came together the night I brought my first CSA box home. In the basket, along with mountains of fresh greens and rhubarb, was a bundle of beautiful purple asparagus and a few green stalks they were calling “walking Egyptian onion”. I rummaged around the freezer to find some bacon, and called the boyfriend to pick up some eggs and Gruyère cheese on his way home from work. Served alongside some salad (with radishes also from our CSA), the frittata made a quick and satisfying dinner. I’m giving you this recipe on a Friday so that you can dazzle your guests (or hung-over roommates) with it for brunch this weekend.

Tweet: This Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata from #cookingwithbellson looks perfect for brunch! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/v42cN+
Tweet: This Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyere Frittata from #cookingwithbellson looks perfect for brunch! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/v42cN+

*I’m sure some of this sounds super bourgeois, but my intentions are serious and humble. Locally sourced ingredients will have been pulled from the ground more recently, meaning that they’ve lost fewer of their nutrients on the way to my plate. The mustard greens I buy in the spring from a farmer in New Jersey will be fresher than those I buy in the winter from a farmer in Chile, so they’ll taste better, too.

**Or isn’t harvested – if the farm fails that season due to drought or flood, you take a loss on your investment.

Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Frittata

Serves 2

Frittatas are extremely versatile. Feel free to substitute whatever looks good at your farmer’s market or grocery store. Swap out the asparagus for spinach, fresh or frozen peas, kale, or basil, and toss in some peppers or tomatoes if you like. The spring onions can be exchanged for yellow onions, shallots, or thinly sliced leeks. I love asparagus and Gruyère together, but Parmesan, feta, or even cheddar would work equally well. Have fun getting creative and let me know how you make your frittata in the comments!

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon, cut into roughly 1/3″ pieces

2 tbsp butter

2 spring onions or 1 shallot, thinly sliced

large handful asparagus, trimmed then sliced into 1/2″ pieces

1/4 cup water

5 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

2 oz Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350°

Render the bacon: Heat a nonstick pan over high heat until water dropped on the surface of water evaporates on contact. Fry the bacon until crisp, 2-3 minutes. Pour off the excess fat (you can reserve it for a later use like I do) and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.

Cook the vegetables: Place the pan back on medium high heat and add the butter and onions. Saute for 2 minutes or so until the onions are translucent and a bit brown around the edges. Add the asparagus and the water, then bring the water to a simmer to blanch the asparagus. When most of the water has cooked off, add the bacon back to the pan.

Add the eggs and bake: Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables and bacon, then scatter the grated cheese over-top the eggs. You want to set about 70% of the eggs here, so occasionally tuck your spoon under the bottom of the eggs and tilt the pan, letting the uncooked eggs run to the bottom of the pan. After about 3 minutes, move the pan to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes.

Serve: Carefully (that pan is hot!) remove the pan from the oven. The eggs should be thoroughly opaque and a little puffier than you last saw them. Allow the pan to cool for one to two minutes to finish setting the eggs. Run a spatula around and under the eggs to release the frittata from the pan, then slide the frittata onto a large plate. Slice into wedges and serve.

 

 

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Soup for Early Spring

Last weekend, New York City finally got its first glimpse of spring. In context of a winter that has been surprisingly harsh and enduring, with months on end of polar vortex blanketing the city in shades of grey and gloom, this flash of warmer weather seemed to spontaneously energize every small being in the city. As if choreographed by nature, New York, long asleep, awoke all at once. Trees that had been barren for so long shot out bright green leaves as sparrows sang out to each other on well-rested voices beneath a cloudless blue sky. New Yorkers ventured out of their stuffy apartments to bask with nature in refreshed enthusiasm, lingering in the sunlight on newly crowded streets and rediscovered park benches. And I, dressed in short sleeves and a smile that involved my whole body, set about to make a meal that expressed the glory of this early spring.

After so many months of heavy stews and chilies, spring inspired me to create a lighter take on soul-warming soup. It’s time to forget about root vegetables and heavy spices and turn my attention to bright, clean flavors that resonate with the season. While the spring’s best greens will hide under soil for yet a few more weeks, I can still prepare winter’s alliums in a way that hints of the season to come.

First, I prepare a rich chicken broth, which is necessary to warm in these still-chilly evenings. Then, to complement this base, I sweat loads of onions and fennel (whose bright licorice flavor and delicate green fronds make them the springiest of winter vegetables) until they have given up their pungent aliases and divulged a creamy and sweet character.  Finally, to bring the color and freshness I crave, I finish the soup with rosy radishes, a mess of cilantro, and saline olives. The overall effect is warming, but it warms in the manner of golden sunshine on lightly clothed skin. In other words, it’s exactly what you want during the week when New York weather teases with spring on the weekends.

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Soup for Early Spring

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs (bones and skin on)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp cooking fat of choice (I used coconut oil for a clean flavor; you could use butter or ghee as well; or olive oil if that’s what you have around, though I don’t love that for higher heats)
  • 2 onions, sliced into half-moons
  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and sliced into half-moons, fronds reserved
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano (or fresh, using double the amount)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (or an abundance of fresh diced tomatoes, if in season)
  • 1 bunch radishes, cut vertically into quarters or eighths if very large
  • Cilantro or parsley (or whatever herb is in your fridge)
  • Black olives

Steps:

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  1. Prepare all your ingredients. See recipe endnote for detailed slicing instructions if you need them.

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  1. Bring chicken broth to a boil. This is the part where we make store-bought chicken broth incredible (or homemade broth even better). Add the chicken thighs. If you want your broth to be, as I said, incredible, don’t try and cut a corner by using boneless-skinless thighs. The bones and skin add flavor and body, as well as loads of nutrition. Simmer the chicken in the broth for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Remove chicken to a plate and allow to cool. Set broth aside in a large bowl.

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  1. Heat the fat in a large pot over medium-high. Add the onions, fennel, garlic, and oregano, then season liberally with salt and pepper. The goal with all these alliums is to elicit a sweet and soft character, not a caramelized and crunchy one. Don’t skimp on salt here, as it is vital in drawing water out of the vegetables so that they soften. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to hang out for a good long while so that they reduce by about 50% (this could take up to 30 minutes). Stir occasionally to keep things from getting browned (though your onions will probably still taste great if that happens). While all this is happening on the stove, pull apart your now cooled chicken. If you’re like me, you’re going to toss the bones and skin into your special “Future Broth” bag in the freezer. If you can’t imagine ever making chicken broth at home, toss them out.

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  1. Once the vegetables have cooked down considerably, add back the chicken broth. Add the canned tomatoes, radishes, and shredded chicken. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the radishes are tender.

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  1. Stir in herbs and olives right before serving.

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  1. Serve soup warm and garnish with fennel fronds.

Endnote:

  • To slice onions into half-moons, cut first vertically (slicing through the stem) and peel. Cutting through the stem end leaves all the layers in each half bound together by the stem, so the onion doesn’t fall apart on your cutting board. The slice horizontally across each onion to produce half-moons.
  •  Fennels can be confusing creatures if you don’t know how to tackle them. Fear not, it’s easy and they’re delicious. First slice off all the stems and fronds, if attached. Then remove the tough outer layer, which might be stained brown. Placing the fennel upright on the cutting board, slice down through the stem. There is a core you can now see towards the bottom of each half of the bulb – slice that out with a diagonal cut on either side of it. Finally, put the fennel on its side and slice across into half-moons as you did with the onion.