Rita lives just across the street from the shop. She supplies the cafe with fresh-baked ciabatta almost everyday (these days), and, when you're lucky enough to visit the cafe on a particular day, a basket-full of warm zeppole - Italian doughnuts tossed in cinnamon and sugar. She is a painter, an avid gardener, and - I noted - quite the feisty woman. Of course, upon first meeting her, I had remarked on this fact out loud, and she responded with, "What? You think I'm going to be this frail old woman? Of course I am feisty!"
Rita is an advocate for the classics - simple home-cooked recipes done well, and most importantly, done right.
When I was a teenager, I watched copious amounts of cooking shows on the Food Network, and watched chef after chef tackle a frittata by first, starting it on the stovetop, and then finishing the frittata inside a hot oven. I mean, I was aware of this stovetop method too, but not quite like the way Rita tackles this. The result is almost pie-like - with a thick interior from the chunky potatoes and onions, and a crispy-golden shell, from the thin layer of egg encapsulating the vegetables inside. She claims the oven-way is the lazy way, and you know, given the strength and conviction of her words and that sassy sideways look that she gave me when I even mentioned the word 'oven'... I believe it. I won't ever dare make a frittata using the oven again.
Janaki: I've only ever seen a frittata made in an oven...
Rita: Pfft. The oven is the lazy way! You NEVER, EVER make a frittata in the oven!!!
Frittata di Patate
Preparation Time: approximately 30 minutes | Serves 4
2 large russet potatoes, skin peeled, cut into chunks
2 medium white onions, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
1 cup (or so) of vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
a bowl lined with paper towel
a shallow 8-inch frying pan
a dinner plate at least 2 inches in diameter wider than your frying pan
1) Peel the skin off of the potatoes and cut them into large cubes.
2) Cut the medium white onions into large chunks.
3) Heat a cup or so of vegetable oil in a wok. Once hot, gently drop the potatoes in. Give the potatoes a stir once in a while with the spatula, to ensure the pieces cook evenly. Drop in the onions a few minutes after the potatoes start to brown and cook until the onions are softened and translucent but not caramelized.
4) Drain the potatoes and onions onto a bowl lined with paper towels and salt to taste. Set aside. Reserve a tablespoon on the frying oil for the next step.
5) Heat your frying pan with the reserve oil. In the meantime, beat four eggs and season. Once the pan is hot, gently pour in the beaten egg mixture and watch until the sides start to soufflé.
6) Pour in the fried potatoes and onions onto the souffléd egg base and gently work the potato-onion mixture into the egg with a rubber spatula.
7) Once the mixture starts to look like it will hold together well, take a large dinner plate and flip the frittata onto the plate. Gently return the flipped frittata onto the frying pan for about a minute to fry the other side. Rita does this about three times in fairly quick succession before finally turning over the finished frittata on to a plate to serve.
Rita serves the finished dish with some ripe tomatoes and basil drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil and salt. This dish can handily feed four as a light lunch, but I ate close to three-quarters of the frittata. Such is the power of dishes like these - simple in concept and construct, but no less powerful, sensory, and satisfying in nature.
Photographs and Words: Issha Marie