A frittata is always the answer to a busy day, a hungry belly or an empty fridge. In short, it’s my go-to meal when I’m in a pinch. It’s also my favourite way to throw together some great ingredients to showcase them instantly in a satisfying meal. Take this market-inspired, autumn frittata: some just-picked wild mushrooms (porcini, pine, ovoli or a combination of all three would be lovely) and fresh, boiled chestnuts are subtle partners making a hearty dinner that even your carnivorous dining partners would be happy with.
As simple as a frittata is, I really first learned how to make and enjoy it when I moved to Tuscany. After many a bad experience with too thick, rubbery frittatas that are more egg than anything else, I was almost completely put off by them. But here, I realised the beauty of a good frittata is just enough egg to hold the other ingredients together and just the right amount of cooking for a frittata that quivers, not one that you could bounce off the wall.
There are those that flip their frittata to cook the top evenly, but I prefer cooking it in a well-greased cast iron pan and either covering it while cooking with a lid or some tin foil (it helps hold in the heat) or finishing the top in the oven (the benefit of using a completely heatproof pan). This way, there’s less risk of overcooking the eggs.
A NOTE ON CHOOSING THE RIGHT CHESTNUTS…
In Tuscany, there are a number of areas well known for their chestnuts that even have IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) or DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status—castagne del Monte Amiata (IGP), marroni del Mugello (IGP) and marroni di Caprese Michelangelo DOP. There is a difference between castagne and marroni, and it’s not simply size, as many people think. There are actually two different varieties, with the castagna being a wild plant and marrone being cultivated. Marroni are my recommendation here as they are a little easier to peel, are smoother on the palate and slightly sweeter. You can recognise them by their fuller, upside-down heart shape to them rather than the stout, oval shape of castagne.
Frittata di funghi e castagne (serves 2)
6–8 fresh boiled chestnuts
1 bay leaf
100 grams wild mushrooms (porcini or pine mushrooms, for example)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Knob of butter
Handful of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
The chestnuts need to be boiled and peeled before using—to do so, cut a small slit into one side of each chestnut with a sharp knife. Place in a pot with a pinch of salt and a bay leaf, cover with cold water by at least 3–4cm and bring to the boil, then let cook 30 minutes if they are small or 40 minutes if larger. Drain and peel completely. You only need 6–8 in this recipe, but I recommend doing a large batch of these as they are delicious as snacks just as they are and can be eaten over the next couple of days, stored in the fridge. Truly the ‘meat’ of the poorest of cucina povera dishes, they are also delicious in a risotto, a simple bean or chickpea soup, or just served after dinner with a glass of red wine or vin santo.
Clean the mushrooms with kitchen paper (dampened if there are stubborn patches) and trim the ends off, then roughly chop the cap and stems. Heat the olive oil and butter together in a skillet (nonstick or cast iron is best for frittata) and swirl to cover the entire base and sides of the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium heat until tender and golden brown. Add the chestnuts, crumbled or roughly chopped, and the thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the eggs and swirl to combine well and cover the entire pan.
Cook until the bottom is well browned and the top is set, no longer runny, and still glistening. Take off the heat (the eggs will continue to cook a little), slide the frittata onto a serving plate or board, cut into wedges and serve as is, or with grilled bread and a salad of bitter leaves such as radicchio.
N.B. If you find the bottom is cooking much too quickly for the top to keep up, turn the heat right down and you can place a lid on top or cover with tin foil, or alternatively, put the entire pan (if handle is heatproof) under the grill (broiler) setting of your oven.