If you imagine the frittata as the homier, less pretentious cousin of the French omelette, you might want to bear in mind just how much more fun your down-to-earth relatives usually are—their casual manners and generosity are just more comforting and enjoyable. In fact, a frittata is often heartier, healthier and more satisfying than its famous cousin.
The word “frittata,” which derives from the Italian verb “friggere,” or “to fry,” connotes the simplicity and pleasures of cucina povera—the “humble cuisine” that most of us innately love. Egg is the main ingredient. With its high protein and mineral content, easy availability and low cost, eggs are an essential part of the diet almost everywhere in the world. From China and Southeast Asia to India and Iran, up to the Maghreb, Spain, France, and Italy some kind of frittata-like dish is prepared. Surprisingly, in Italy, it’s rare to find a restaurant that offers frittata on its menu; it’s the quintessential home food.
Naturally, the tastiest frittate are made with the best eggs—farm fresh with luscious, orange yolks. But, of course, eggs are just the beginning; the most distinctive aspect of the Italian frittata compared to similar preparations is the creative and imaginative use of all kinds of ingredients. People sometimes wonder what the difference is between a frittata and an omelette. The main distinction is that the ingredients of an omelette are gently placed into the beaten eggs as they are cooking in the pan. In a frittata, the eggs and ingredients are mixed together, then cooked more slowly. Also, the final shapes are different; an omelette is usually semi-circular, where a frittata is round and usually thicker. There’s an Italian expression: “hai fatto una frittata,”which loosely translated means: you’ve made quite a mess—or a sequence of mistakes.
That expression no doubt comes from the fact that it often happens that a frittata is made on the spur of the moment: a last-minute decision made when you don’t have the time to go grocery shopping and the refrigerator seems bare. But all those odds and ends and leftovers in your fridge can make for a great frittata. In fact, in Italy, sometimes before serving lunch or dinner, a small portion of the meal is purposely put aside for a frittata the next day.
In Italy, mothers—and fathers!—make delicious frittate with leftover pasta(with or without sauce or seasoning). Also, a frittata is a perfect way to entice children into eating vegetables; it can often be a complete meal in itself. It can be tastier hours later, eaten at room temperature, or enjoyed the next day, with a side of arugula. For a quick lunch, frittata can be served along with sautéed greens, salami or various local cheeses.
When stored in the fridge, be sure to put your frittata in an airtight plastic container, as water and humidity can ruin the taste. Remember: any greens or veggies you add into the frittata should first be sautéed, in order to eliminate most of their water. As for whether to use butter or extra-virgin olive oil—besides just personal preference, you should also consider which of those tastes marries best with the other ingredients you’re using in the dish.
- Use between 6-12 eggs—8 is probably the most common number. Too many eggs can be a bit difficult to handle, especially if the frittata is turned over.
- If you have a broiler, you won’t have to worry about flipping over your frittata. Just stick the pan under a low flame and remove when the frittata is golden.
- Use a 10-12” pan with a thick bottom and round borders. A sturdy, nonstick pan makes it easier to detach the frittata without having to add extra butter or oil.
- Fresh, sautéed or steamed lightly seasoned vegetables:
- Boiled or roasted potatoes
- Fresh greens
- Wild mushrooms
- Good-quality cheeses are ideal for frittata:
- Melting cheeses—such as provolone, mozzarella and emmenthal
- Parmigiano, grana, and Pecorino Romano
- Ricotta—for a lighter taste and texture
- Cold cuts or air-cured meats:
- Roasted chicken or turkey
Basic cooking methods
If you’re not using leftovers, prepare the ingredients to be added to your eggs by sautéing or roasting them. Put these aside and allow them to cool. Usually, this mixture is poured into the same pan in which you sautéed your vegetables; add some more olive oil or butter before you cook the frittata. Mix vegetables or ingredients, into your eggs, which should be salted, peppered and lightly beaten with a fork. Immediately pour the mixture into the hot pan, and reduce the heat to a moderate-to-low flame.
This next phase can be difficult. With the help of a spatula and a wooden fork, allow the upper, liquid part of the mixture to slip down below the solidified part, so that all parts of the frittata are cooked. Then, using just the spatula, lift the sides of the frittata and check that the bottom is not starting to burn—that’s important. As soon as you see that the top is firm, pull the pan away from the flame, half cover it with a lid, and leave it that way for 30 seconds. Shake the pan to be sure that it’s not sticking to the bottom. If it does stick, gently detach it with a spatula. The frittata can now be turned over.
If you want to use the traditional method for flipping the frittata over, you’ll need to be careful and quick. Using a flat dish that is larger than the pan—or you can use a flat lid—place one hand firmly on top of the lid and the other hand on the handle, and quickly turn the whole arrangement upside down. Immediately slide the frittata—the golden-brown side will now appear on top—back into the pan to finish cooking for the last few minutes.
If this is your first frittata, you might find the movements a bit awkward, or perhaps discover that the mixture is too high for the pan. But with experience, you’ll learn the ideal proportions and how to regulate the ingredients—for instance, the amount of eggs and cheese—to ensure your frittata is not too dry. It’s a wonderfully fun and healthy dish, well worth perfecting!