This is an example of the type of recipe I love the most: simple, seasonal and with the option to vary ingredients based on what’s available. While I would call this recipe “simple”, I think it is important to understand a little science behind it. Specifically, the science behind how eggs cook and why it is beneficial to add a little (or a lot) of dairy.
First, let’s review how eggs cook. The next few paragraphs are from Cook’s Illustrated, who do a much better job explaining this than I can.
Eggs contain both egg whites and egg yolks. The white contains about 90 percent water and 10 percent protein. The yolk contains about 50 percent water, 20 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. The yolk also contains an emulsifier known as lecithin that keeps the fat suspended in the water. The protein strands in the egg white and yolk are all coiled up like a bowl of cooked spaghetti. For an egg to cook, the proteins need to uncoil. This process begins to happen when we mix the eggs in a bowl. The whipping action starts to uncoil the proteins.
Once the eggs are heated and we start to cook the eggs, the now uncoiled proteins begin to chemically bond with each other. They form chemical cross-links—like strips of Velcro sticking to each other. This chemical bonding creates a network that traps water inside. This is observed as the coagulation temperature of eggs—the point when they begin to turn solid as they are cooked. As the eggs continue to cook, more bonds are formed until the network of proteins is strong enough to form the solid structure of a fully cooked egg with all the water trapped inside.
However, if you overbeat the eggs, the proteins will uncoil so much that they overreact and form a tough structure. In addition, too much cooking can lead to too much bonding between proteins, producing eggs that are also too tough.
So basically, we want the proteins to bond so the eggs will set up, but not bind so tightly that they become tough. Introducing dairy to the eggs will coat the protein molecules so that they can’t bind with one another as tightly. So it makes sense that so many egg recipes add some dairy to the recipe. The recipe below only adds 4 ounces of dairy to about 18 ounces of egg, whereas a quiche recipe is typically twice the amount of dairy to eggs by weight. So the texture you want in the end will determine how much dairy you will add.
Enough science talk – let’s get to the good stuff!
Greens & Cheese Frittata Muffins
makes 12 muffins
Recipe notes: 1) feel free to swap out the olives for just about anything else – a little bit of ground meat, chopped artichokes or sauteed mushrooms are just a few options; 2) you can use many different types of cheese here but I would avoid really dry, aged cheeses, such as Parmesan or an aged cheddar because they won’t melt very well. I have used both goat cheese and Cumberland from Sequatchie Cove but I think Monterey Jack, Fontina or even bleu cheese would be great.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely diced shallot (from 1 large shallot)
- 8 ounces of tender greens (kale, tender collards, Swiss chard), stems removed, and finely chopped (about 3 cups)
- 2/3 cup (3 ounces) pitted olives, roughly chopped (see recipe note)
- 2 1/2 ounces cheese, shredded (see recipe note)
- 9 large (18 ounces) eggs
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk
- Salt and pepper
- Adjust oven to middle rack and preheat to 350 degrees.
- Spray a standard 12 muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add greens and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3-5 minutes longer. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper. Equally divide the shallot/greens mixture between muffin tins (about 1 tablespoon per muffin cup). Equally divide the olives and cheese between each muffin tin.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper together until fully combined. I found it helpful at this point to transfer the egg mixture from a bowl to a 2 cup liquid measuring cup to make it easier to pour into the tins. Fill tins with the egg mixture, leaving at least a 1/4″ space from the top.
- Transfer to the oven and cook for about 23-26 minutes, checking the tops to make sure they are just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and serve.