As I’ve written in the past, I didn’t get serious about Food until I was in my 30s, and when I did, I learned the way most home cooks do: in a higgledy piggledy fashion, bouncing from subject to subject as they caught my interest, studying some areas intensely and missing others entirely. This was true of not only ingredients and techniques, but also of the personalities that make up the vast, and vastly diverse, culinary landscape. There are so many wonderful chefs, cookbook authors, restaurateurs, food critics, farmers, vintners, butchers, bakers, charcuterie makers, and so on and so forth. Getting to know the names and the faces of the folks whose work has impacted the way in which we feed ourselves has, understandably, been yet another aspect of my ongoing education.
One hugely influential person I wish I’d learned about earlier in my culinary journey was Marion Cunningham.
Sadly, I didn’t become aware of Cunningham until she passed away in 2012. Seeing the outpouring of love from the foodish types in my Twitter feed, I was embarrassed to admit I had no idea who she was, and immediately turned to Google to rectify that fact. Apart from seemingly being universally loved and respected within the community, Cunningham was a tireless champion of the home cook, and a deep believer in the importance of learning one’s way around the kitchen. She spent decades as a wife and mother before dipping a toe into the culinary world at the age of 50. Once she did, she wasted no time, assisting James Beard in his cooking classes, penning award-winning cookbooks, contributing pieces to numerous food magazines and newspapers, and even hosting her own television show on the Food Network.
Two of the books Cunningham wrote were new editions of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which were published in 1979 and 1990. That she should work on those particular tomes is especially fitting when you consider that back in the 1800s Fannie Farmer herself was also a late-blooming, pioneering culinary instructor best known for educating home cooks.
As you can imagine, the stories of both of these women resonate pretty strongly with me, so when I found one of Cunningham’s editions of Farmer’s cookbook on the shelf of a used book store, I was thrilled!
In addition to the requisite recipes, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is chock full of helpful advice for both the budding and the seasoned cook, including information on cooking techniques, proper food storage methods, descriptions of and uses for pantry staples, drawings of common herbs, and so much more. It’s no wonder the book has been in print for more than a century!
Given that July tends to find my gardening partner and I awash with fresh produce, I’m always interested in new and interesting ways to use it, so this month I turned to Marion Cunningham and Fannie Farmer for help.
The book has a lovely, simple Frittata recipe, which seemed perfect. It is:
Frittata with Cheese and Vegetables
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- ¾ cup drained and diced cooked vegetables, a combination of 2 or more: zucchini, asparagus, spinach, green beans, eggplant, artichoke hearts, tomatoes
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon thyme, crumbled
- Salt to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the broiler. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the garlic and onion and cook until soft.
Remove the skillet from the heat. In a bowl, mix the eggs with the remaining ingredients.
Put the skillet back on very low heat. Pour in the egg mixture, stirring to incorporate the garlic and onions.
Cover and cook 2-3 minutes, until the edges shrink a little.
Slip under the broiler to brown lightly.
And there you have it, a cast iron pan full of egg-encased sunshine (and a little cheese).
If I have one criticism about this recipe it’s that I would have liked to have been given a hint about how long to leave it under the broiler so I didn’t have to keep opening the drawer and checking it. Otherwise, this was a lovely, simple recipe, fresh and satisfying, and a great way to use up random veg.
In an industry like showbiz, which prizes youthfulness, it can be a bit intimidating to switch gears, and career goals, in midstream. I’m thankful to have examples like those of Marion Cunningham and Fannie Farmer, who would never have made a “30 Under 30” list. They remind me that it’s okay to reinvent oneself whenever inspiration strikes, and that the important thing is to work hard and stick close to whatever it is that makes us excited to get out of bed in the morning.