January 17, 2007
I don't know why, but I've had frittatas on my mind lately, ever since reading a recipe for a clam frittata in The New York Times Magazine.
Now don't get me wrong — even though I am somewhat of a legend in East Hampton (some might say my name is synonymous with Bubby) I am not as infatuated with clams as many of the Bubbies and Bonackers are. This is probably because as a youngster clams were plentiful. We used to go clamming by the little bridge on Short Beach in New Haven (which, oddly enough, is right before Long Beach, which is on Short Beach Road and runs the length of Long Beach — and they wonder why I'm dyslexic).
I remember my dad and uncle Tom would go and bring me along. I would marvel at their outfits, thinking surely they were the dorkiest adults around (even as a four-year-old I had a heightened sense of fashion, which was why my nickname was Sven . . . but I digress).
Dad would wear one of those crazy straw hats that you won at the carnival, a plaid shirt, bathing suit and sneakers — who would have thought to wear sneakers in the water? But these weren't ordinary sneakers.
My father started as a male nurse but retired as the Director of Nursing at Brooklyn State Hospital, which was a mental institution.
Whenever I needed sneakers I would ask for money — I wanted Converse All Stars, of course. He'd reply by asking my size and bring sneakers home from work. But they weren't really sneakers — they were mental patient sneakers. He did the same thing when we needed "dress shoes." I looked like a clown and immediately started walking like a duck.
When he'd get really mad at us during dinner he'd scream, "You people are crazier than my patients!" He was probably right, which proves shoes make the man.
My uncle would also wear some odd concoction of mismatched clothes and the requisite mental patient sneakers. I concluded the types of clams who responded to clammers wearing this type of footwear were probably mentally-deranged clams, and that's why dad and Tom wore them in the water to begin with.
After a couple hours the straw bushel baskets stuck in the inner tubes would be brimming with clams, and as everyone knew, the crazy clams tasted best.
We'd eat the little ones chilled with spicy cocktail sauce. Mom would make clam sauce, red and "white" with the Cherrystones. Uncle Tom would chop up the chowder clams and make a huge pot of Manhattan chowder, enough for damn near the whole year.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with a frittata, but indulge me.
Will Smith's character in Six Degrees of Separation comes to mind. Remember how he wowed two Park Avenue couples by preparing a scrumptious feast from scratch using only what happened to be in the refrigerator?
You know what he made, right? Foie Gras.
No, I'm kidding, he made an omelet, and a frittata is little more than an omelet made by a mental patient.
The challenge for me one night was to make my demanding and sophisticated wife a suitable supper without going out, as it was getting late, we were tired and we wanted to go to bed early. This is the genius of frittatas — anything goes.
I pulled out some standard leftovers — a couple links of sausage, a jar of artichokes, a couple mushrooms, spinach, an onion and garlic, and whatever cheese I had around — in this case some Fontina and some grated Reggiano (of course).
Anything will do, however — olives, broccoli, asparagus, shrimp, lobster, you name it. Hell, in a pinch you can even throw in some crazy clams. Anything goes.
I sautéed the onion until it was toasty, added the garlic, mushrooms (sliced) and spinach. I chopped up the sausage and sliced the Fontina.
I whipped up seven eggs, added salt and pepper, a healthy squirt of Half and Half, anchovy paste, some chopped parsley, cilantro, capers and a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce.
I greased the bottom and sides of a Pyrex bowl with melted butter, dumped all the ingredients willy-nilly into it and baked at 350 degrees for one hour.
Meanwhile I made a salad of tomatoes, black olives and red onions and cooked some home fries the easy way — I popped a tater into the microwave for about 10 minutes, diced up the whole thing skin included, sautéed it in a little olive oil with lots of salt, pepper and paprika. I also sliced up some French bread I had defrosted (always keep some bread in your freezer).
The frittata came out shimmering like a bowl of Jello but it was as smooth as custard, moist but not wet.
This meal would have served four and cost me maybe 10 bucks (of course in the truly glutinous style of the Hamptons, we sucked down an expensive bottle of Pinot Noir with it).
You know, as I write about cooking more and more I often get asked the same question:
"Bubby, what do you keep in your refrigerator?"
My answer is based on the belief one should be able to feed a family without having to go shopping for days — this comes in handy during snowstorms, terrorist attacks, blackouts or if you are extremely embarrassed about your sneakers.
Here's my Top Ten: 1) eggs 2) milk or cream 3) breakfast meat 4) bread 5) potatoes 6) Novocain 7) uncle Chester's pinky finger 8) cheese 9) parsley 10) 16 bottles of beer
Two weeks ago we asked readers what Rick should do about his hair: 19 readers voted for the Sly Stone look, eight said to get a regular (or as Rick's wife calls it "normal") haircut, and only one poor soul (obviously a mental patient) voted for the ponytail. Fourteen of you, however, suggested severing the entire head. (An anxious world waits breathlessly for the decision.)