With spring comes Easter which, counter-intuitively to some perhaps, draws my attention to the flavors of the Mediterranean and Middle East. But while others are craving hams and deviled eggs, I find myself hungering for the spicy, bright flavors of the eastern Mediterranean which, of course, is where the whole show got started.
Beyond that, however, I find myself looking for tradition in holiday meals, as well. In this case, I’ve taken it a little farther afield. Up until fairly recently, it was common for people–eager to shake off the blahs of a heavy winter diet–to consume spring tonics comprised of everything from fresh spring greens to molasses. Bitter greens, such as dandelion leaves, are traditional ingredients in that spring ritual. These were supposed to purify the blood and reinvigorate the system. Whether you care to invest revivifying powers into herbs or not, fresh spring herbs–such as dandelion greens–are delicious and they’re a wonderful way to enjoy some of the first greens of the season. Combine them with eggs–the traditional symbol of rebirth–and you have a wonderful frittata, perfect for Easter brunch or a light holiday meal.
Those spicy Mediterranean flavors come to fruition nicely with a Moroccan orange salad, a bright, fresh contrast to the frittata, flavored with pancetta and cheese. Serve the two dishes with a good loaf of crusty bread, and you’re set with the first of the season’s lighter fare.
The frittata, the French omelet’s rustic Italian cousin, really is a different dish altogether. Omelets should be creamy whereas frittatas are firm, almost like pancakes. Omelets are folded over themselves to hold different fillings whereas with a frittata, the flavorings are added to the egg batter itself before it hits the frying pan. Frittatas can be served hot or at room temperature and some even like them cold. Omelets, when they’re cold, well, they taste like cold omelets. Care should be taken to avoid overcooking the frittata, though, as they dry out quickly.
Dandelion Greens Frittata
• 5 eggs
• 1 bunch dandelion greens
• 2 strips pancetta
• ¼ cup white or yellow onion, minced
• 2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano cheese, grated
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Special equipment you’ll need: a 9-inch, or thereabouts, heavy-weight skillet with an oven-proof handle. Iron skillets are great for this.
Slice the pancetta across into thin strips and then begin frying them over low heat in half the olive oil. After about 2 minutes, add the minced onion and continue frying until the bacon is just crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Wipe the grease from the pan; you’ll be using it for the next step.
Strip the leafy parts from the dandelion greens and discard the stems. Rinse the greens, squeeze off the excess water and then wilt them in a hot skillet over medium heat. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two at most for the dandelion leaves to wilt down. Remove the wilted green to a cutting board.
Chop the greens, and then spread out over the cutting board to cool for a few minutes. While they’re doing that…
Turn on your broiler.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and then add the pancetta and onion mix, the cheese, and salt and pepper. When the chopped greens are cool enough to handle, toss those in, too, and give the whole mixture a few more good stirs.
Heat the remaining olive oil in the 9-inch skillet over medium heat. Tilt the skillet from side to side so that the oil covers as much of the bottom and sides as possible. Pour in the egg mixture.
Turn down the heat a bit so that it’s just below medium. Let the egg mixture cook until it’s just set and pulling away from the sides of the pan. The top of the frittata should still be a little runny.
Now, take the skillet by its handle and slide it into the broiler long enough for the surface of the frittata to set and just begin to brown. This will take a minute, maybe two at most. Serve hot or at room temperature, sliced into wedges.
Orange Salad with Olives
• 4 oranges such as blood, Cara Cara, or navel, peeled, and cut into rounds or segments
• ½ red onion, sliced into thin rounds
• 1 cup black oil-cured olives, or Kalamata, rinsed
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne (or less, to taste)
• ½ teaspoon crushed black pepper
• 10-12 mint leaves, sliced into threads
• 1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves picked and stemmed
• ¼ cup olive oil
• Juice and zest of 1 lemon
• Special equipment you’ll need: A lemon zester or microplane, and a wire whisk.
Place the orange slices in a large mixing bowl along with the onion slices and olives.
In a separate bowl, combine the lemon juice, spices, honey, and lemon zest, stir together, and then whisk in the olive oil, emulsifying the juice and the oil together.
Pour the dressing over the orange and olive mixture, toss, and then add the cilantro and mint, tossing again.
Let the salad rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend together. Give it another quick toss before you place it on the table.