Most of us don’t have time for the traditional American breakfast of bacon and eggs these days. We’re busy, so we often grab something quick and easy before rushing out the door. Besides, eggs have taken a bum rap the last couple of decades. They’re nothing but little cholesterol bombs, we’ve been told — to be avoided at all costs! For some, they’ve become a forgotten food.
Fortunately for food lovers everywhere, medical research now shows that eggs eaten in moderation have no negative health effects (see here and here). (Of course, I’m no medical expert. So if your cholesterol runs hot, you will want to discuss your diet with your doctor.)
Eggs are full of healthy protein and carry a modest caloric cost (a large egg has only 70 calories). But where to fit them into our diet? Breakfast seems the logical choice, but we still have that time issue.
Enter the frittata — a quick, delicious dish that is perfect for dinner. Add a salad or a hunk of French bread (and perhaps a glass of white vino) and you have a complete meal.
Like an Omlet, But Easier
The frittata comes to us from Italian and Spanish cuisine. (In Spain it’s called a tortilla, though it’s quite different from a Mexican or Tex-Mex tortilla). A frittata is a mixture of beaten eggs combined with cheese, vegetables, or meat. It is briefly cooked on top of the stove, and then put into the oven to finish. You know it’s done when the eggs are set and have puffed up. It’s similar to an omelet, but much easier to prepare.
To serve, just cut the frittata into wedges and remove from the pan. Alternatively, you can slide (or invert) the frittata from the pan onto a plate and then cut it.
Frittatas can also be sliced into thin wedges that are served as appetizers. This practice is common in Spain, where slices of tortilla will invariably be served at room temperature.
Actually, one of the virtues of frittatas is they are tasty at any temperature, hot or cold.
A nonstick frying pan with an ovenproof handle (sometimes called an “omelet pan”) is the cooking vessel of choice for a frittata. A 10-inch pan will hold 6 to 8 eggs, plus other ingredients (enough to serve 4).
You can make a frittata in a pan that doesn’t have a nonstick surface, but this will require more fat in order to prevent sticking. You can also cook a frittata entirely on top of the stove (turn down the heat and cover after its initial brief cooking), but this method isn’t as foolproof as finishing the frittata in the oven.
I’ve seen recipes that suggest running the frittata pan under the broiler for the last minute or so of cooking in order to produce a nicely browned top surface. Be aware that most manufacturers of nonstick cookware do not recommend this because intense broiler heat can damage the nonstick properties of the cookware. I actually do use the broiler sometimes, thinking a minute or two shouldn’t matter. But I know I’m risking shortening the life of my cookware when I do this.
Recipe: Red Pepper and Onion Frittata
The classic combination of sweet red peppers, onions, and eggs makes a delicious frittata. Because the procedure for making most frittatas is similar, this can also serve as our “master recipe.”
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion cut in half through the poles, then sliced into thin slices (1 cup)
- 1 large or 2 medium sweet red peppers sliced into strips (2 cups)
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced or chopped
- ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
- 8 large eggs beaten
- ¼ cup milk or cream (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice your onion, red peppers, and garlic.
- Warm a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium to medium-high heat.
- When the pan is hot, add oil, wait until it heats, then add the sliced onion. Salt and pepper lightly and sauté for a couple of minutes.
- Add red peppers and garlic to the onions, reduce heat to medium-low, add additional salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until the red peppers are nearly soft.
- Meanwhile, beat eggs and add milk or cream. Grate the parmesan cheese and add to egg mixture. Mix well.
- When the red peppers are almost soft, add red pepper flakes and thyme to the mixture in the frying plan. Stir well to incorporate.
- Increase pan heat to medium. Add egg mixture to onions and peppers. Do not stir! Cook for about a minute (until frittata edges just start to set).
- Turn off stove-top and put pan in oven. Set timer for 9 minutes.
- The frittata is done when the eggs are set and puffy. It probably will not be done at 9 minutes, but it’s good to check. Usually the frittata takes 10 to 12 minutes in the oven.
- To serve, cut the frittata into wedges and remove from the pan. Or slide (or invert) the frittata onto a plate and then cut into wedges.
- The quantity of sweet red peppers can be increased somewhat if you wish. You can also mix green and red peppers.
- Salt and pepper your vegetables while they cook to enhance their flavor.
- Milk/cream isn’t necessary, but it does add some body to the frittata.
- The amount of parmesan cheese can be increased if you wish. Or add an ounce or so of another grated cheese for a different flavor dimension.
- Thyme is my herb of choice. Feel free to substitute another.
The structure of most frittatas is the same. Virtually every 10-inch frittata will contain:
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 to 4 cups filling (see below)
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic
- 8 large eggs beaten (some recipes may call for 6 eggs, but the frittata won’t be as voluminous)
- ¼ cup milk or cream (optional but makes a creamier frittata)
- ¼ cup (1/2 oz) shredded parmesan cheese
- seasoning (salt, pepper, herb)
- Additional cheese: In addition to the parmesan, you can add up to two cups (4 oz) of grated or cubed cheese. Good choices include Swiss-type cheese, cheddar, fontina, goat, or mozzarella.
- A variety of vegetables: Onion is almost always in my frittatas. Other popular choices include mushrooms, potatoes, dark leafy greens, zucchini, and asparagus. Almost any vegetable you think might taste good in a frittata, will.
- A flavorful meat. Ham, bacon, and sausage are particularly popular.
- Note that all vegetable and meat fillings must be cooked before you put the frittata into the oven. With some ingredients (such as asparagus) it may be faster and easier if you first prepare them in the microwave or by another method, or use leftovers.
There are numerous frittata recipes in cookbooks. But once you understand the structure of the frittata, it’s easy to devise your own concoctions. A few ingredients can go a long way. You’ll find there are almost endless possible combinations.
The frittata can be a lifesaver if you’re running late and looking for a quick meal idea. Most of my frittatas are created on days when I’m too busy to think about cooking, and find myself looking in the refrigerator wondering what I’m going to eat half an hour before dinner.
Before we leave our frittata discussion, I’ll talk about one more recipe in a post tomorrow, Ham, Bacon, and Cheddar Frittata.
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