Caprese frittata a la Cafe Lena


When I lived in Portland, Oregon, in the late 1990s, there was a breakfast spot on Hawthorne Boulevard called Cafe Lena that I used to go to for a dish called BBG Scrambled Eggs.

BBG stands for basil, brie and garlic. In today’s world of hybrid recipes and fusion cuisine, most menu readers are too jaded to bat an eye at such an unexpected combination. But at the time, my mind was blown. Decades later, the magic has only grown.

Since I began messing around with it, BBG Scrambled Eggs has become a template for how to accommodate the revolving feast of produce that the seasons provide. After several evolutions of the original dish, the recipe has evolved into a frittata, heavy on potatoes and onions. The next step was to shoehorn the components of caprese, the iconic salad of tomato, basil and mozzarella. This shift started organically when I was out of brie and used mozzarella instead. Since the basil was already there, it only took tomatoes to complete the caprese.

After making a few batches, I remembered the brie and added it back without dropping the mozzarella. The brie — especially the rind, which I didn’t remove — added a distinct fungal flavor to the dish that interacted with the basil to create a musky, exotic, kind of savory flavor that brought me all the way back to where we started, at Cafe Lena, and washed me with feelings of nostalgia for pre-hipster Portland. After 20-some years, the recipe had come full circle, while going somewhere else entirely.

BBG caprese frittata

This recipe folds recipes and ingredients of European origin into a West Coast context that’s about as far away from Europe as you can get without a boat.

Serves two

  • 1 large potato, preferably a waxy
  • type like Yukon Gold, grated
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic (five whole cloves, one
  • grated)
  • 2 small zucchinis, thinly sliced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tomato, sliced into quarters, then
  • into thirds
  • 1/2 cup cubed mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup cubed brie
  • 1 cup basil leaves

Heat half of the oil on medium in a non-stick pan — either an omelet pan or a cast iron skillet. Add the potatoes and onions to the hot oil and thoroughly mix. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, which retains the moisture from the onions and steams them, along with the potatoes, into a soft mush. After about 10 minutes, add the whole garlic cloves. After another five minutes, add the zucchini.

If you’re incorporating other vegetables, you’ll have to figure out when and in which order to add them so they all finish cooking at the same time as the potatoes — or if they should be added in the next step along with the tomatoes, cheese and basil, which we want to cook as little as possible.

When the potatoes, onions, garlic and zucchini — and perhaps other vegetables — are done to perfection, turn off the heat and let them cool.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs along with the salt and let them sit until the cooked stuff has cooled. Give the eggs a final beating and add the cooked items, stirring them stiffly into the eggs. Add the tomatoes, basil, grated garlic and cubes of cheese and gently fold them in.

Clean the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Turn the heat to medium. When the pan heats up, splash some water in the oil to see if it sputters. When the water sputters, add the egg mixture and gently spread it evenly about the pan. Put the lid back on to trap as much heat as possible and cook until you smell the bottom start to brown. Don’t wait until you smell burning.

With a spatula, gently separate the frittata from wherever it’s sticking to the pan. At this point, you should be able to move the frittata around the pan in one piece just by shaking it.

Place a plate over the frittata and gently flip it. Do so over a container positioned to catch any excess oil that might tip out while you’re flipping it onto the plate. Then add the oil back into the pan and slide the inverted frittata off the plate and into the pan for just a minute or so to finish cooking the top surface.

Turn the heat off before it totally finishes to prevent overcooking and let it cool on the stove with the lid on.

When cool enough to work with, slide the frittata onto a plate and serve.


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