Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
California’s wine country is vast and diverse, and certainly picturesque. This month Wine Tourist Magazine takes us through the Central Coast’s Paso Robles region. Lying between San Francisco and Los Angles, Paso Robles is representative of California’s diversity with its varied landscape of flat lands, rolling hills, mountains and rivers. Warm in the day and cool at night, it has numerous micro-climates, diverse soils, more than 40 wine grape varieties (including its heritage grape Zinfandel), and over 200 wineries.
A Little History
Wine grape growing and wine making was first introduced to the region by the Franciscan Friars at the Santa Margarita Ranch and Mission San Miguel in the 1790’s. Then in the 1870’s, Indiana rancher Andrew York planted 240 acres of vineyards and eventually establish The Ascension Winery, which became the first commercial winery in the region. He is also credited with some of the earliest plantings of Zinfandel, the variety which helped Paso Robles gain notoriety. In the years that followed, immigrant farming families began to settle the area, several of whom also planted vineyards for wine production and furthered recognition of region.
Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in large quantities and remains the area’s leading variety. Numerous new varieties were introduced while growers and producers continued advancements. In 1990, fewer than 20 wineries existed in the Paso Robles area, many of which were large scale or mid-size operations, but by 2000 that number had increased to around 50 wineries. So how did the region then jump to more than 200 wineries today? In the last 15 years, with the steady growth of the wine industry, Paso Robles saw an influx of boutique and small family-run vineyards. These young wineries are gaining a solid reputation for the innovations with Bordeaux and Rhône varietals along with Zinfandel, while the more established wineries are focusing on hospitality centers and tasting events to further promote the region.
The Paso Robles Experience
As the wine production and tourism industry continues its expansion in the region, let’s get to know Paso Robles here at the World Platter. Whether you’re planning a vacation to one of Paso Robles’ 11 AVAs, taking a day trip along one of its numerous wine trails, attending one of the region’s wine events (Harvest Wine Weekend is coming in October!), or simply wanting a taste of Paso Robles in your own home, a picnic is the perfect accompaniment. California is known for its vast open spaces, beauty and delightful weather – a picnicker’s paradise. It’s also renowned for its bountiful acres of farms, fresh produce and organic ingredients. Fortunately, for many of us August is also a great time of year to pull from our own gardens or shop for fresh ingredients at the local farmers’ market. We can easily fill a picnic basket with fresh veggies, fruits, cheeses and crackers and be set for the day, but what if we want something a little more substantial, seemingly gourmet and above all, easy? It’s frittata time!
The Humble Frittata
Despite its simplicity, the frittata is often perceived as difficult to make. This is likely due to its gourmet appearance or the fact that it can easily be overcooked taking it from a pleasing creamy texture to that of a sponge. But, not to worry, we’ll walk you through the process and have you making frittatas left and right. It is essentially an open omelette, or crustless quiche filled with any variety of meats, cheeses and veggies. The dish comes together in less than 30 minutes, uses only one pot, makes use of ingredients you have on-hand, can be served hot or room temperature any time of day, and is both light and filling. It can also be prepared the same day or days in advance, and of course it can pair with a variety of Paso Robles wines!
To start, whole or 2% milk is essential to a creamy, rich frittata. Yes, you can opt for a lighter, less caloric version, but you’ll be missing out. You’ll also want to make sure your egg to milk ratio is correct so as not to make the frittata too runny. The commonly accepted ratio is a half cup of milk to every dozen eggs. Next a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet is paramount. You don’t want your eggs sticking to the pan. But most importantly, you need to be vigilant about cook time. It’s no secret that oven temps vary, so there is no hard and fast time here. You’ll need to observe your frittata as it cooks. You’ll also want the edges golden brown (not the center – that means your interior is overdone), and the center to be slightly jiggly like a custard, not stiff. As for ingredients, this is the joy of a frittata, you can use any combination you desire! Want meatless, use a variety of veggies. Or perhaps a touch of bacon is what you have in mind. The only suggestion we’ll make here is to absolutely use seasonings – salt, pepper and herbs.
For our recipe this month, we’ve chosen a combination of common summer garden ingredients – tomatoes, zucchini, onion and basil. To begin we sauté the onion until it’s softened and translucent. Next we toss in the garlic, tomatoes and zucchini. It’s important to fully cook the veggies to reduce the water they could potentially add to the eggs, plus the sweetness of freshly roasted vegetables is unbeatable. Once the veggies were cooked, we added the mozzarella pearls over the top, cooking for a minute to get the cheese melting. Then pour the whisked eggs, milk and seasonings directly over the top of the cooked veggies.
Tip: We used paper towels to pat the fresh mozzarella dry before adding them to the skillet to reduce the liquid added to the frittata.
The eggs will begin to cook and brown along the edges, so use a spatula to gently pull the edges away from the side of the pan, which will allow liquid from the center of the pan to run under the edges. After about 3 to 4 minutes, place the skillet directly into the oven. Bake for about 3 minutes, then toss on a little shredded Parmesan, and finish baking. Here’s when you’ll need to observe closely. Remember – slightly jiggly (like Jello or custard) and golden on the edges. The mozzarella may produce some white liquid over the top – don’t confuse this with runny eggs. It will absorb into the frittata once removed from the oven and add to the creamy texture. Once your frittata is set, remove it from the oven. The frittata can be served immediately, or cooled, sliced, and wrapped for serving later or taking on a picnic.
Tip: If you used a cast iron skillet, it will continue to generate heat and further cook ingredients once removed, so consider taking it out a little early.
Perfectly cooked frittata is hard to beat in terms of its combined simplicity, practicality and abundant flavors. It will be fresh, creamy, sweet, savory and filling without being over-satiating. Frittata is also an ideal picnic food as the protein will leave you satisfied, yet it is light enough to serve with a salad, crackers or fresh fruit, and it will also put a little food in your belly for a day of tasting on the wine trails. As for what wine to serve with your frittata, again the choice is yours and Paso Robles offers plenty of options. Serving for breakfast? Try a nice sparkling wine. A picnic lunch on a hot summer afternoon? Perhaps a chilled rosé or crisp white wine fits the bill. Bacon or sausage in the frittata? A Paso Robles Zin might be in order.
Like wine, frittatas aren’t meant to be intimidating. Get creative, be adventurous and have some fun! Try a variety of ingredients and combinations and find your favorites. Similarly, open yourself to the wide variety of wines produced in the Paso Robles region from whites to reds, large production or small batch. But, to truly experience Paso Robles on your platter, combine the frittata and wine on a picnic with good company or even a good book. On the wine trail, a park in your hometown or even in your backyard, you can make the Paso Robles experience come to life. Cheers!
2 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 zucchini, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
1 cup fresh mozzarella pearls
6 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a cast iron, or non-stick, oven safe skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the sliced onions. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Next add the garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant, after about 30 to 45 seconds, add the tomatoes and zucchini. Cook the vegetables for 5 to 8 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper.
When the vegetables are lightly toasted, place the mozzarella pearls in the skillet and cook another minute before pouring the eggs over the top. Then add the basil leaves to the skillet and cook for approximately 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges of the eggs begin to brown and the middle begins to set.
When the eggs are slightly set, place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 3 minutes. Then toss the Parmesan over the frittata and finish baking for another 3 to 4 minutes. The eggs should be golden brown on the edges and lightly set in the center. It should not be stiff, but should shake slightly when done. If the frittata is overcooked, it will be too sponge-like and dry. (Do not confuse the white liquid from the mozzarella on the surface for uncooked eggs. It will absorb into the eggs when removed from the oven.)
Serve the frittata immediately or refrigerate for up to 5 days. If taking on a picnic, set aside and let cool, then cut into desired servings and individually wrap.