From the garden: still good veggies despite the flaws

November 01, 2006|By ROB KASPER

It was getting to be time to say goodbye to the garden, a parting that I have always found difficult. I have a tendency to cling to the belief that the tomato plants aren't dead yet, that the peppers will rebound and that the basil will bounce back from its frosty dance with death.

As the temperatures drop, so do my standards. Tomatoes and bell peppers that would have been heaved into the compost pile in August are given special treatment in October, carried into the dark basement and gingerly placed on a bed of newspapers to ripen.

Even when these late-season tomatoes do come to fruition, they are vegetables only a gardener can love. They have more soft spots than the Redskins' offense. They are bug-ugly and bird-battered, pecked by hungry birds as well as attacked by ravenous insects. Their texture is a long way from peak form.

But, hey, they are mine, the fruits of my labors. I subscribe to the philosophy espoused by the late U.S. Sen. Roman Hruska, and I embrace mediocrity. Besides, I can always slice off the spoiled parts, which is what I did the other day when I made my clean-out-the-garden omelet.

Officially, it is known as a Bell Pepper, Tomato and Cheese Omelet. But when I was out in the garden, shivering in the cold, eyeing all the less-than-perfect produce dangling from ropy vines, a vision came to me.

I saw a big, warm yellow omelet, stuffed with a filling made from these near-dead vegetables. They might not be gorgeous, but they could still contribute to the cause. They could be Sunday morning breakfast. I picked an unbecoming harvest.

Knife in hand, I went to work in the kitchen, loping off huge sections of deformed or mealy peppers and tomatoes, dicing the good parts. Into the skillet the diced vegetables went, joining sauteed onions, cooking for several minutes until they became dense and fragrant. At this point they smelled so good, so heavenly that no one would guess they came from such humble beginnings.

When the reddish, fragrant mixture was almost as thick as tomato sauce, I took it out of the skillet and put it in a bowl.

Then I read a line in the recipe in The Bon Appetit Cookbook that made me smile. It was, "do not clean skillet." I welcome any excuse not to scrub a skillet. In this case, the reason was a good one; the omelet was going to be cooked in the same pan, picking up some of the lingering flavor of the vegetables.

Next came the tricky part: adding the cooked vegetables and some shredded cheese to the omelet, then folding the omelet over. I confess that my fold was not perfect. But the results, while not photogenic, were delectable.

The peppers and tomatoes and spices gave the plain old omelet a pleasing bite. The recipe suggested making a second omelet, but one was quite enough for two adults.

This omelet did inspire me to go back to the garden to scrounge around for the remains of the growing season, unattractive but flavorful morsels.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

Bell Pepper, Tomato and Cheese Omelets

Makes 2 omelets; serves 4 ( 1/2 omelet each)

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)

1 small onion, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

large pinch cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup grated fontina or Mon- terey Jack cheese (divided use)

4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (divided use)

For the first omelet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; saute until almost soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano and cayenne pepper. Simmer until vegetables are very soft and filling is thick, 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer filling to small bowl; do not clean skillet.

Whisk eggs and 1 tablespoon water in small bowl to blend. Mix in 1/4 cup fontina cheese. Heat same skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the egg mixture and stir with the back of a fork until the eggs begin to set. Cook until the mixture is set, lifting the edges occasionally with spatula to let uncooked egg run under cooked portion, about 2 minutes.

Spoon half the vegetable filling, half of the remaining fontina and 2 tablespoons of parmesan down center of omelet. Fold sides of omelet over filling to enclose. Transfer omelet to plate. Cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet. Make second omelet with remaining egg mixture, filling and cheese.

Adapted from "The Bon Appetit Cookbook" by Barbara Fairchild

Per serving ( 1/2 omelet): 235 calories, 13 grams protein, 18 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 232 milligrams cholesterol, 271 milligrams sodium

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