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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Frittata – More Than Just An “Italian Omelet”

Delicious, Nutritious, and Easy

Ever since the food science nerds got their act together and reclassified eggs from “lethal little cholesterol bombs that will clog up your arteries and kill you deader than a hammer” to “Hey! These things are actually GOOD for you!”, I've been excited. Not that I wasn't excited about eggs before; I never bought into that hooey in the first place. But now that it's okay to be excited about eggs again, I'm really excited, because that means I can share some great egg recipes with you. One of my favorite egg preparations is the frittata.

A lot of people think of frittate (that's the correct Italian plural of “frittata,” by the way) as just Italian omelets. And to some degree they are. But they are also much more. Equally as delicious and nutritious as their fancified French cousins, frittate are more versatile and less fussy. Win-win! Italians don't eat “breakfast” as we know it in America, so frittate are not generally considered “breakfast food” in the way that omelets are. In Italy, a frittata is much more likely to show up on your lunch or dinner plate. They are often served as antipasti, or what we think of as appetizers. And you can serve them hot from the pan or they can be offered at room temperature. Room temperature omelets? Not so much.

Let's start by getting rid of the idea that a frittata is nothing more than an open-faced omelet. That notion insults both cultures. You don't just throw eggs and a bunch of leftovers in a pan, cook it to a dense, rubbery consistency, slice it up, and slap it on a plate. You may not need to do all that fancy French folding and flipping, but there are definitely cooking techniques you need to master.

And while you don't require a cutesy custom “omelet pan,” the pan you use to make a frittata does make a difference. Like any good egg pan, it's got to be non-stick. BUT....you've also got to be able to stick it in the oven, which eliminates a lot of the common non-stick pans designed for home use. So where does that leave us? Either good ol' cast iron or one of the newer seasoned carbon steel pans. Whichever you choose, make absolutely sure the surface is seasoned to a glass-like state. Well-seasoned cast iron or carbon steel can be as non-stick as the most expensive ceramic or other coated pans. I've got a cast iron pan that's about thirty years old and it will outperform any non-stick on the market. But if you've been.......shall we say “casual”......about the way you care for your cookware, it can be a disaster waiting to happen. And a nice sticky egg dish is just the disaster for which it's been waiting. Doesn't matter how masterful your technique, badly seasoned cookware will sink your best effort. Just have a look at Mario Batali doing a demo where somebody has saddled him with a new and unseasoned cast iron pan. 

Speaking of technique, low and slow is the key to a great frittata. You can't just throw the ingredients in a screaming hot pan. Well.....you can, but what you get won't be a frittata. The other trick to achieving perfection is getting the top and the bottom to both cook evenly. There are a number of ways to achieve that result. Most frittata recipes start out on a stovetop and finish in an oven or under a broiler. Some recipes call for cooking the whole thing in the oven while others advocate doing all the cooking on the burner, bravely advising that you first cook the bottom in a pan, then turn the frittata out onto a plate and flip it over and back into the pan so that the top – which is now on the bottom – can finish cooking. I've successfully employed all three methods.

Okay. You've got a decent pan and a basic understanding of technique. Now what? Frittate are so versatile the options are practically limitless. But since space is not, I'll limit it to three of my favorites, each of which employs a different cooking method.

First up, let's try a basic combination of eggs, cheese, and tomatoes. Here's what you'll need:

6 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 sprig (about 3 tbsp) Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 plum tomato, cut into thin rounds

The Italian way with food relies on everything being fresh and everything being fresh will yield the best results. That said, you can use dried herbs and common supermarket mozzarella, but you won't get the same delightful Italian-ness, capisci?

Va bene. Now here's what you do:

Preheat your oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and the milk and beat until frothy – think scrambled eggs. Add salt and pepper.

Chop together the parsley and the basil and add them to the egg mixture.

Heat the oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium-low heat. Pour in the eggs and cook until the bottom sets, 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add a layer of cheese, then dot with slices of tomato.

Slide the pan into the preheated oven and bake until the eggs are set and the cheese has melted, 15 to 20 minutes.

Using a thin spatula to loosen around the edges, turn the frittata out of the pan to slice and serve. If it looks like it might stick, don't worry; just serve it right from the pan. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6

The next recipe combines bacon and eggs and uses the stovetop only method.

You'll need:

6 ounces pancetta or unsmoked bacon, cut into very small cubes
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
6 eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
1 sprig (about 3 tbsp) Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pancetta works best in this application, but regular bacon will work. It will just impart a smokier flavor to the finished dish. Same rule applies to the parsley as in the previous recipe. If you even consider using the pre-grated vaguely cheese-flavored sawdust in a green plastic can that commonly masquerades as Parmesan, I will send the Italian Cheese Police to your kitchen and it will not be pretty. I use and recommend real Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grana Padano is an acceptable substitute. Domestic Parmesan is okay. Whichever you choose, grate it fresh yourself. Pre-grated cheese – even the good stuff – looses flavor quickly.

Here's what you do:

In a large, non-stick skillet, cook the bacon in 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat until it begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon and set it aside, reserving some of the drippings in the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk until frothy and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley, cheese, and cooked bacon.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil to the skillet the bacon was cooked in, heat it and pour in the egg mixture. Cook over medium heat until the bottom of the frittata is lightly browned and the top begins to set, 6 to 8 minutes.

Place a large plate over the top of the skillet and turn the frittata onto the plate. Then slide it back into the skillet and cook for several minutes more, until set.

Transfer to a plate, cut and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Finally, one just for fun. This one just uses the oven and a muffin tin and turns out neat little
individual frittate. Or you can make one of the most popular items on our catering menu by using a mini-muffin tin to produce a bite-size version.

Here's what you'll need:

Non-stick cooking spray
8 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto or ham, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley

Having already worn out the topic of fresh ingredients, I'll move on. Just remember the Italian Cheese Police.

Here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Spray either 1 standard (12 cup) or 2 mini muffin tins (24 cups each) with non-stick spray. Olive oil spray is best.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk until frothy and add the salt and pepper. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill the prepared muffin cups with the egg mixture. Make sure you leave some head space. These little suckers will puff up like souffles, so don't overfill the cups. Half to two-thirds, maybe.

Bake until the mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a small spatula, loosen the sides of the frittate and slide 'em out and onto a serving platter.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields about a dozen standard size or around 40 minis

Once you get the hang of the basics, impazzire! (Means “go crazy”) Chop up some cooked spaghetti and add it to the mix. Or experiment with different Italian cheeses like asiago, ricotta, or mascarpone. Spice it up with some peperoncino. The world is your oyster! And some people even add those to a frittata.

Buon appetito!

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