How to Build a Basic Frittata

basic-frittata

A good friend of mine had her second child back in March, a 9 lb 6 oz, 23-inch bundle of joy named Jordan. Since her first child is a daughter at the fun-but-exhausting age of 4 years old, I had promised ages ago that I would come down to her digs in Maryland and help her when the new baby was born.

I was down in the DC area for three weeks, and while I managed to take in a Rev game with my buddy Evan at Capital City Brewing, and see DC United stick it to LA with a last-minute game winner in frigid RFK stadium, I mostly stuck close to home: preparing the house (and Big Sis’ room) for Jordan’s arrival, and cooking. Lots and lots of cooking.

Chicken marinated in Meyer lemon & mint for the grill. A giant Traveler’s curry. Chile-rubbed steak and herbed lamb roast on the grill as well. Roasted baby potatoes and curried cauliflower and saffron couscous. Pulled chicken for taco night and apple chutney-baked chicken breasts over rice with toddler-approved steamed broccoli & lemon. Smoked paprika cauliflower steaks, roasted then finished on the grill, served with a fabulous orange gremolata. And there were salads: lots of salads. Simple mixed green salads, topped with leftover grilled meat or dressed with a simple jam vinaigrette. My favorite grapefruit, fennel & feta salad, as well as a slew of made-up-on-the-spot grain salads, including recent standby red cabbage quinoa & my friend Christine’s favorite, cauliflower lentil.

Nanny K, Baby Whisperer

Nanny K, Baby Whisperer

After the baby was born and my time as Nanny K started winding down, I focused less on “what’s for dinner?” and more on meals that I could parcel into the freezer for the coming weeks of Life With A Newborn: hearty black bean & vegetable soup, tomato lentil soup, and a giant potato and greens-stuffed frittata.

Every time I serve frittata to friends, someone will inevitably ask, “Is this on the blog?” And yes, of course, there are a few frittata recipes on the blog, but honestly, every frittata is a little different: the alliums you have on hand, the type of potato, the fat, or meat, or dairy. Just like you don’t follow an exact recipe every time you make a veggie-stuffed omelet, frittata is more of a method for crisper-drawer clearing, or a handy way to re-invent last night’s leftovers, than it is a “recipe.”

So, in honor of my friend Christine, her new son Jordan, and Christine’s mom, who took over Mary Poppins duty when I left, I’ve written an exhaustive set of tips & tricks to perfect your frittata game. Please: don’t be intimidated by information overload. Frittata, at its most basic, is simply a baked egg dish: no more, no less. The classic Spanish tortilla is a dense, dairy-less frittata with nothing more than potatoes & onions. Frittata can be as simple or as complex as you like; the beauty of it is, once you’ve made one a few times, you’ll get the hang of it and be able to whip one up anywhere, any time.

basic-frittataHow to Build a Basic Frittata

Fat: Fat = flavor, and the fat you choose to cook the vegetables in your frittata will set the tone for the dish. My favorite is probably bacon grease, but sometimes the flavors are more delicate and call for olive oil or butter, sometimes a hearty & spicy chorizo grease is what you want. Duck or goose fat is always extra-special and lard-fried potatoes are hard to beat.

Tips: Just know that you’ll need more than you think, especially for a large frittata: those potatoes and veg take up a surprising amount of fat, and you’ll want a light coating on the pan in order to prevent sticking & burning.

Meat: Frittata can be so hearty and rich on its own, I tend to prefer mine without meat. But there’s no denying that crumbled bacon or sausage can add even more oomph, and that’s certainly my husband’s favorite version. But a little goes a long way, so a few pieces of bacon, a sausage or two at most. Less is more here.

Frittata can also be a great vehicle for leftover chile verde or pulled chicken, but just remember, small, bite-sized pieces and/or tender meats. You don’t want to fight through a big piece of steak in a frittata.

Tips: If you do fry bacon or sausage for the frittata, make sure to strain off the fat and use it to sauté the vegetables as above.

Potatoes: For me, frittata isn’t frittata without potatoes. Any kind work: Russet, Yukon Gold, sweet, red, my favorite Peruvian purples. Even leftover French fries work well. Tater tots? I haven’t tried it, but I can imagine the glory of Tater Tottitata.

For the non-spud crowd, other roasted root vegetables work: turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, celeriac; as long as they are roasted to a reasonably soft texture – crunchy doesn’t work in a frittata. I find winter squash to be too soft and watery, in general, for frittata.

Tips: I always start a frittata with the potatoes, because they take the longest to cook. Leftover roasted potatoes are great here, but if starting from scratch, get them cooking, either on the stovetop in a large skillet or in a 400 degree F oven. Cut the pieces small, about ½-inch dice and toss often to promote crispy edges and creamy middles.

basic-frittataOnions: It’s all about the alliums. Yellow, white, or red onions, shallot, scallion, ramp, leek, green garlic. Frittata without alliums is like a day without sunshine. Or something. It’s also a great way to use up that extra leek in the fridge that you bought for soup but ended up having wine & cheese for dinner instead.

Tips: A large frittata (12 – 14 inch) can handle a lot of onion; 1 large chopped, or 2 to 3 leeks. I like to include a mix, and toss in any half or quarter onions lingering in the crisper drawer, so my frittatas often mix a leek, some yellow & red onion, maybe a shallot or a few soon-to-be-limp scallions. Chop as if for soup, sauté with plenty of fat, but leave them a little al dente, as they will continue to cook as the frittata bakes.

Leafy Greens: Of course, frittata doesn’t have to include greens. But 98% of mine do. One reason is probably that there are always leafy greens on hand: even in the dead of winter I have kale & chard in the chest freezer, but in Spring and Fall my fridge overfloweth. A large frittata can easily absorb a full bunch of kale, chard or other leafy green, without it seeming too packed full o’ greens, and it gives body and a note of bitterness to the flavor, a nice contrast to the richness of the eggs & cheese.

Tips: You absolutely must sauté the greens first, or else they will release all of that water into your frittata and leave you with runny, watery egg casserole. Chop a bit more finely than you might for a simple side dish, as you want bite-sized pieces in your frittata, not long strings that will pull away from the egg as you bite. As always, the greens will cook down in volume a lot, so use more than you think you can fit in your pan: then double that.

Other veg: Bell peppers, hot chile peppers, asparagus, peas, corn, finely chopped green beans, broccoli – they only need a bit of sautéing or a blanch-and-shock before they are ready to be tossed in with the potatoes, onions & greens. Curried roasted cauliflower makes a fabulous frittata. Root vegetables, as noted above, need to be roasted or slow-cooked on the stovetop until tender. Wet vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, & eggplant should be cooked well down first, either by roasting or in a hot skillet, so that they will release a minimum of water into the frittata. Most vegetables seem to work, but I’ll admit I’ve had no luck with a few – lettuce, endive, cabbage, radish, kohlrabi, celery, garlic.

Tips: Leftover grilled vegetables are especially good in a frittata; simply dice to ½-inch and add just before the eggs & cheese.

basic-frittataEggs: It goes without saying, but the better your eggs, the better your frittata. Farm-fresh pastured eggs make a sublime, brilliantly orange frittata. That said, the eggs above were from Costco; I have no idea how fresh or local they may have been. In my stuffed-to-the-gills style of frittata, egg is the vehicle for lots of fabulous vegetables. The simpler your frittata, the more the focus is on the quality & flavor of your eggs.

Tips: A decent rule of thumb is about 1 large egg per inch of skillet; i.e. a 12-inch skillet will need at least a dozen eggs, and likely one or two more to grow on. The giant pan above was about 15 or 16 inches, and the eggs were somewhat small, so it took 22(!) eggs to fill the pan and cover the vegetables. It’s easy enough to adjust if you find you’ve prepared too few eggs: just whip up a few more and add them to the pan.

Herbs and other seasonings: Add fresh or dried herbs, ground spices and pepper directly to the beaten eggs. Salt, on the other hand, should be added to the potatoes and vegetables while cooking; reduce salt somewhat if you’ll be using a salty cheese like feta or Parmesan.

Dairy: Adding a bit of dairy – milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt – to the eggs is the key to make a creamy, custardy egg filling. I don’t always, as sometimes I want the egg to be more of a binder for the vegetables than a rich custard, but even a small dollop of milk or cream helps the eggs to beat uniformly. A larger amount, say a ½-cup per a dozen eggs, will produce a richer, more creamy egg custard.

Cheese: And in the end, there was cheese. I can’t think of a cheese that won’t work in a frittata, although extremely soft & melty cheeses – a triple creme brie, for example – can release too much fat and result in a greasy frittata unless used with restraint. I’ve used feta, but it tends to be a bit dry, and I prefer at least a little bit of melty goodness. My favorites are probably a sharp cheddar, an aged Gruyère, or healthy dollops of fresh goat cheese.

Tips: I’ve learned over time not to add grated cheese to the beaten egg, as it tends to fall to the bottom of the pan and then sticks and burns while the frittata is baking. With soft or very melty cheeses, like chèvre or brie, I simply dot the surface of the frittata, pushing some of the blobs down into the middle of the pan. With grating cheese, like cheddar, Gruyère or Parmesan, I sprinkle liberally across the top of the vegetables, then pour the eggs on top. The egg will puff up around the cheese as it bakes and the final product will be more evenly distributed.

basic-frittataBasic 12-Inch Frittata

EQUIPMENT

  • a large (12-inch), oven-safe skillet, either well-seasoned cast iron or non-stick
  • a flexible or offset spatula, to help release the frittata from the skillet

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup bacon grease, plus extra as needed
  • 1 lb potatoes, scrubbed & diced
  • salt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bunch kale, tough stems trimmed, chopped
  • 2 cups leftover grilled vegetables, diced to ½-inch
  • 12 large eggs
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram, basil or oregano
  • few grinds freshly ground black pepper and/or ground spices
  • 1 cup, packed, grated cheese, such as cheddar or Gruyère

METHODS

  1. Cook potatoes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 2 tbsp of the bacon grease and toss with the diced potatoes along with a generous sprinkling of salt. Either roast potatoes in a large casserole or rimmed baking sheet until crispy & tender (about 45 – 60 minutes) or sauté in a large skillet over medium-low heat, turning frequently (about 30 – 45 minutes).
  2. Sauté vegetables. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp bacon grease in a large non-stick skillet. Add onion, sprinkle with salt, and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 – 7 minutes. Add kale, in batches, and more bacon grease as necessary, stirring until wilted and cooked down, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Prepare eggs. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, parsley, dried herbs, and black pepper. Whisk together until frothy and well-combined. Set aside.
  4. Assemble & bake frittata. Add grilled vegetables and cooked potatoes to the skillet. Season with salt, then stir well to mix. Sprinkle evenly with grated cheese. Whisk the eggs once last time, then pour over the vegetables in the skillet, tilting to the pan to spread the egg evenly throughout. Allow to cook on the stovetop, over low heat, just until you see egg beginning to set at the edges of the pan, about 2 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and bake until puffed and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. I like my eggs well-set; some will say that 20 minutes is too long. If you like your eggs softer, start checking the frittata at 10 – 12 minutes and cook until you no longer see runny egg.
  5. De-pan & serve. Allow frittata to cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes prior to removing. Loosen the edges by sliding a spatula all the way around the frittata in the pan, then tilt the pan at a 45-degree angle, and sliding the spatula under one side, ease the frittata out of the pan with a combination of tilting the pan and helping it out with the spatula. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8.

basic-frittataSTORE

Refrigerated for up to 1 week. Freezes well: freeze individual slices, double-wrapped, for up to 6 months.

SEASON

Year round.

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11 comments

  1. lorithenaz

    Thank you! I love how you don’t assume the reader knows what they’re doing and you’re so detailed and specific in your instructions. Earlier I was reading a cookie recipe on another blog and it said to dip the cookies in chocolate melted using the double boiler method. I’ve seen that and kind of know what it is, but I’d have to google or youtube it seperately to make that blogger’s cookies. I got all the information I needed to make a proper frittata from your one post! Thanks!!!

    • Thanks, Lori! We aim to please. 🙂

      And, FWIW, I find it easier to melt chocolate in the microwave. Use a glass or ceramic bowl, don’t heat for more than 30 seconds at a time, and stir vigorously in between heatings. Works like a charm.

  2. Jen

    It never occurred to me to freeze a frittata. Does it stand up well to a quick defrost in the oven for a last minute dinner? Or do you need to slowly let it thaw in the fridge?

    • Hi Jen,

      I freeze it by the slice and then just heat it in the microwave. Lunch in 1 minute! 🙂 For a whole frittata, I would probably heat it in the oven instead, but no need to thaw first – in fact I suspect it’s better NOT to thaw as it would get soggy.

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