Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solution: Frittata Finger Food
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
The frittata has been described as an Italian omelet as well as a crust-less quiche. While it is an egg-based dish, the frittata is not folded over or finished on the stove top; instead, the main ingredients are first cooked partially on the stovetop, then baked to a finish in the oven. Since the basic frittata has been a part of Italian cuisine for centuries, the exact origin of this dish is not known. Still, most culinary historians believe that it probably started as a simple and nutritious dish that the early Christians would have prepared during the Lenten season to provide maximum protein between periods of fast.
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Those first recipes would have consisted of eggs, a little cheese and a few vegetables. However, a good recipe spreads quickly and knows no borders; one can now find a form of the frittata in many parts of the world since the basic recipe can be easily flexed to reflect the flavors and ingredients of most any ethnic cuisine. From a carb counters view, it’s the perfect one-dish meal that will never get tiresome since the combination of ingredients and flavors are virtually endless. In fact, I do not remember ever preparing the exact same frittata twice; depending on my culinary moods, the ingredient list can be specific to a national of a one-time collection of whatever I found in the ‘frig!
Actually, it had been quite a while since my last frittata experience until I was reminded of the delicious flexibility of this dish during the last holiday season. While I have always thought of the frittata as a brunch dish, it was presented as a cocktail hour appetizer, cut finger-food size, served at room temperature. My host, a very fine cook who always presents a table that includes her guest’s dietary discipline or limits, introduced this appetizer as being diabetic friendly, prepared wholly with me in mind. And since these tasty little morsels were laced with pancetta for extra flavor by a devout vegetarian, the entire tray was all mine! However, social decorum did eventually prevail over a natural tendency to simply pig out, so I took a small bagful home. Sidebar: this dish also works well served cold under the light of an open refrigerator door in an otherwise dark kitchen at midnight!
The recipe below was also a part of my take-home package that evening and is pretty straightforward in its prep. I used whole leeks because of a proximity to a nearby fresh leek-growing operation in the neighborhood; however, I highly recommend Melissa’s package of CLEANED & SLICED LEEKS. This practical package of only the edible part of the leek, uniformly sliced, eliminates the multiple rinsing needed to rid this veggie of the fine sandy soil that gets deep into the plant’s layers during the growing process as well as dealing with the inedible green tops that are almost half the plant! Being in a rural area my tops were composted indirectly by a neighbor’s two goats – unless your kitchen is equipped similarly, get our package of CLEANED & SLICED.
Leeks have always been a personal favorite as an ingredient with a more delicate and sweeter flavor than onions, leeks add a subtle touch to recipes without overpowering the other flavors that are present. Although leeks are available throughout the year they are at their best from the fall through the early part of spring. This onion variety not only contains many unique flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that have proven health benefits, leeks can also help reduce both cholesterol and blood clot formations as well as significantly reduce blood pressure when consumed regularly.
If you have one, use a mandolin to slice the zucchini into thin, uniform wafers. The squash adds some body to the dish and pairs well with the leeks. The best part of this dish is its extremely low carb count, which is less than measurable for everything on its ingredient list with the exception of the cheese and eggs. And both those dairy items present no impact on blood sugars at all since each has a glycemic score of less than 15! BTW, try to find the smoked style Gruyere cheese as it adds a richness to the dish that caused me to contradict my claim of never repeating a frittata recipe. Hey, there is one delicious exception to every rule, right? Enjoy (twice even!)
Zucchini & Gruyere Frittata Squares
Yield: about 30 squares
2 TBS olive oil
6 oz. pancetta, ½-inch dice
4 cups leeks, white and light green parts only, diced medium (sub Melissa’s Cleaned & Slice Leeks)
1 zucchini, small (8-10 oz.), thinly sliced into rounds
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
12 extra-large eggs
¾ c. half-and-half
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
10 oz. grated Smoked Gruyere cheese, divided
½ c. chopped fresh basil leaves
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté for 5 minutes, until it begins to brown. Add the leeks and sauté for another 5 minutes, until softened.
Add the zucchini and thyme leaves, then sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender. Drain off some of the fat from the pancetta and set aside.
Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Then fold in two-thirds of the Gruyere and all of the basil.
Distribute the zucchini mixture in an even layer into the greased 12x18x1-inch sheet pan. Pour the egg mixture over the top and sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere. Shake the pan to evenly distribute the egg mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 350° or until puffed and just set in the center. Allow to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before cutting into 30 equal size squares.
Plating: Arrange on a large appetizer tray or platter. This dish can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.