It’s been a hell of a year. I can start a Mother’s Day frittata story like this because I learned to curse (and much more colorfully) at my own dearest mother’s knee, and also because it’s been a hell of a year, incontrovertibly. To stand in her kitchen and talk about this frittata recipe one afternoon last week represented coming home in the most surreal way — the most normal thing in the world to debate whether most people do, in fact, possess a springform pan, except that we hadn’t been in the same room together since before last Mother’s Day. We live 17 blocks away.
We discussed Mother’s Day brunch prospects, with Mom pulling out and flipping through a few dog-eared favorite cookbooks: an ancient copy of “Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook,” containing the recipe-genesis of her spectacular rhubarb pie; “The Shoalwater’s Finest Dinners,” from a legendary restaurant of yesteryear out on the coast; and “Fresh, Fast, & Fabulous,” a self-published, friends-and-family endeavor from the Psychoanalytic Association of Seattle, which, for what it’s worth, now appears to be defunct. This last one — the kind of cookbook a household run by two psychiatric social workers ends up with — took the prescient position, copyright 1982, of espousing the use of the Pacific Northwest’s “wholesome and delicious fresh foods,” making “cooking and consumption a joy to mind and body.” It’s also the source of Mom’s frittata recipe, which she’s made a million times, a joy to everybody with its extreme — like mind-blowing — deliciousness.
The original calls for zucchini, which won’t be fresh from around here for some time; we discussed substituting asparagus. It also calls for green bell pepper, which I’m not sure has ever appeared in anything on our family’s table, and we had a late-breaking realization that we both hate green peppers (note for future article — provisional headline “Why Green Peppers Are Objectively Worse Than Cilantro” — research whether this is a genetic thing?).
Mom’s all vaccinated, and I’m half, and we’re so lucky to be alive and be together and talk about asparagus, our family vegetable, in her cool, pleasant kitchen on a sunny Seattle spring day. I wore a mask and she didn’t. I came away borrowing two of the cookbooks and her springform pan, along with the gift of a sizable slab of rhubarb-kumquat pie covered in waxed paper. Waxed paper! Such a Mom thing — that plus the very happy prospect of eating the pie caught me off guard after I got in the car, and I had to sit there for a minute. Life feels lived with so much gratitude now, with a catch in one’s throat and tears surprisingly close.
This past year — by phone, save the occasional garden supper — Mom’s been recipe consultant, auxiliary editor, fan club, mental health specialist and reality check more than ever. She knew from the very beginning how bad the COVID-19 pandemic could be, and she was there for me. Because of her, I’ve been more careful, and tried to help others take care as well. As loss circled, I’ve tried to be there for her, from near-afar, more than ever, too.
This Mother’s Day, pending a discussion of everybody’s comfort level, the smallest iteration of a family gathering could occur. If so, I will make this fresh version of the frittata. Hopefully, Mom will make a pie. I could hug her.
Asparagus-Plus Frittata for Mom
Later, in the summertime, you can substitute zucchini for the asparagus. If there’s something wrong with you, feel free to substitute green pepper for the red pepper. More asparagus is the best accompaniment, along with rosé, and maybe roasted new potatoes, and/or a spinach salad (maybe with mushrooms, feta and a shallot dressing). A springform pan gives this a pretty presentation (if you don’t have one, maybe it’s time). Meant to serve about 6; also tastes great cold.
- 3 tablespoons butter and/or olive oil
- ¾ cup chopped onion
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- ¾ cup diced red bell pepper
- 1½ cups sliced mushrooms (local ones for extra credit)
- 1 cup asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
- About 3 cups (¼ pound) fresh spinach, rinsed, dried, and torn into roughly 1-inch pieces
- 5 eggs
- 1 pound ricotta
- 1 cup crumbled feta
- 2-3 tablespoons snipped-up chives
- 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
- About 10 grindings of black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 10-inch springform pan (substitute a 9-by-13-inch glass dish or pan if need be).
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and/or butter. Sauté onion, shallot, red bell pepper and mushrooms (sprinkled with a little salt and a grind or 2 of pepper) for 3 minutes, then add asparagus and sauté 1 minute more.
- Remove from heat, add the spinach and mix for several minutes until the leaves wilt.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the ricotta. Taking care not to transfer any liquid, add the sautéed vegetables to the egg-ricotta mixture, along with the crumbled feta, most of the chives (save a handful for garnish), salt and pepper. Stir to combine and pour into pan, then spread evenly.
- Bake for 1 hour or until set in the center. Cool 10 minutes, release from springform pan and sprinkle with the rest of the chives to serve.