Herb Flan in Tomato Sauce

Updated: Nov 10


What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than enflame my husband's jealousy of Jacques Pépin? My husband knows about my lifelong crush on Jacques. He says that I would run away with Jacques Pépin if given the chance. Jacques is now 85 years old, so it would be more like a brisk walk. I have been reaquainting myself with some old cookbooks on the shelf, and started paging through his Cuisine Economique, which has some great vegetarian dishes. Cuisine Economique is a book of budget conscious meals with inexpensive ingredients and includes recipes for leftovers. (On the subject of budget cooking, there is perhaps no more compelling one hour of video you will ever see than June Xie making a week's worth of meals on $25).


I like eggs, but omelets or frittata for dinner is just a way of saying "sorry" on a plate. BTW, why do Americans mispronounce this word? I get routinely mocked at my house for saying "soar-ee" but my husband and son say "saw-ree," which makes no phonetic sense at all. (I should remind him that Jacques would simply say désolé). I prefer to serve eggs another way, or at least call them something else. "Baked eggs" sounds much better and more delicious than "omelet." (One of my favorite 10-minute recipes is baked eggs in marinara sauce: Preheat oven to 425, add the following to a 6 oz ramekin in order: enough leftover red sauce to fill it 1/3rd full, then 1 egg, a few tablespoons of milk, a couple of tablespoons gruyère, a tablespoon of parmesan, some salt and pepper, and whatever herbs you have on hand. Bake for 8-10 mins.)

Jacques can top this. He calls his dish a flan, which is a pretty good euphemism (euphèmisme) for your basic eggs-for-dinner meal. I associate flan with something that is creamy and not browned, but here there are crunchy bits encountered along with the egg, spinach, and herbs. The crunchy bits are formed by the pignoli and leek, which brown and crisp up to make a flavorful semi-crust on the bottom of the frittata (excuse me, the flan).

Jacques includes a bright tomato sauce. I used a cooked version of passata di pomodoro, because he sees this as a room temperature dish, and his sauce is cold. I wanted something hot.


I know what you are probably thinking. You are right now busily adding or subtracting ingredients, but the recipe is really supposed to be green, with bright, clean flavors, it's not supposed to be a kitchen-sink quiche. Jacques says that you can swap out the herbs with whatever you like, but to bear in mind that stronger herbs, like tarragon, basil, or cilantro should be used in smaller quantities than say parsley or chervil.


I think this dish would be improved by toasting the pignoli ahead of time, which Jacques does not tell you to do. Some of the nuts look pale and sad, not fully engaged in the work at hand, and not fully empowered to do their job to the best of their ability. As a Frenchman, Jacques perhaps knows that any such attempt at optimisation des effectifs would not conform to the pignoli nut code du travail.


Ingredients:

Flan:

6 cups of lightly packed mixed herbs (cilantro, parsley, chives, tarragon, arugula, etc.)

4 cups of lightly packed spinach leaves

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 leek, trimmed of its dark green parts, and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces

1/4 cup pignoli nuts

4 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

salt and pepper


Tomato sauce (not in the original recipe):

2 1/2 cups of chopped, peeled and seeded tomatoes (I used a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes)

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

pepper to taste


Instructions:

Tomato sauce:

Push tomatoes through a food mill or strainer into a saucepan for ~1 cup of juice.

Add a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a few tablespoons of olive oil.

Cook on low-to-medium heat until reduced and slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

Flan:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the herbs and spinach. Drain them and chop coarsely.

Melt butter with olive oil in a pan. Add the leek and sauté over medium heat 2 minutes.

Add pignoli and continue cooking for another 2 minutes.

Stir in herbs and spinach. Saute for a few minutes, until just wilted. Add salt and pepper.

Break eggs into a bowl and whisk in milk until blended.

Add the mixture to the saucepan and cook, stirring, until semi-solid, and then bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Plate and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Jacques says this is 6 servings. Either this is not considered a main, or I know why French people are so skinny. This could serve 3 for dinner.


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