It’s Not an Omelet
I get really worked up about frittate. That would be the plural of frittata. Not that I speak Italian, or even pronounce it correctly, but right is right.
A few weeks ago I went to this Italian restaurant for breakfast. It’s a very popular place, and nobody questions its Italian bona fides. When I found out they had a frittata special and it contained sausage with peppers, I couldn’t resist. But really I should have, because a true frittata is hard to find. Mostly one receives lazy open-faced omelets that try to pass as this classic dish and that are really an insult to both French and Italian gastronomy.
Omelets we shall tackle another time.
But what sets frittate apart from omelets is that they are cooked very slowly, over low heat, and are more akin to a Spanish tortilla than an omelet. At least so says Marcella Hazan, and I will take her word over yours.
I mention all of this because on Saturday night I got a little crazy. Mrs. Fussy took the boy to Boston for the day and Little Miss Fussy and I got to have a quiet dinner together. Ultimately we went to Chipotle and bumped into some friends, but I speculated on twitter that Plan B was a caramelized onion frittata w/goose-fat potatoes.
This was tortuous to CrunchyChelle who tweeted back, “I am checking your blog for this fritata with goose fat potatoes. Do you have it on there?”
She would never find it, because oddly, I have never written about the form. To try and make up for all her lost time scouring the FLB late on a Saturday night, here is everything I know about how to make a great frittata.
It takes patience and a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
If you don’t believe me, you can watch Mario Batali publicly fail in his attempt to make what looks like it would have been a glorious frittata all for the lack of a good pan. Given the fickleness of the frittata, it’s no wonder this dish isn’t traditionally served hot, but rather warm or at room temperature. Italians have learned from generations of experience not to try and make one of these to order.
Over time, I’ve combined a few of Marcella’s methods for preparing frittate, which probably undermines the authenticity of my finished product. These changes were based on the cookware I have on hand in addition to personal preferences about the ratio of egg to filling.
I start out with a modest 8” cast iron pan. For this pan, I break out my quart Pyrex measuring cup. And pretty much my goal is to fill the cup. I beat eggs and mix in leftover pasta, bacon, olives, grated cheese, or whatever combination of things sounds tasty and looks hearty.
Last Saturday night I would have put some potatoes pan-fried in goose fat in with some caramelized onions. My guess is that it would have taken about four to six large eggs to fill the nooks and crannies of the cup. I was out of Parm-Reg so I would have considered Pecorino for a moment before ruling it out.
As Marcella suggests for all frittate, I would have pre-heated the broiler and melted the butter in a medium pan until foaming subsided, and poured in the egg mixture. But then I would switch to her method for cooking frittata with pasta, and after the eggs had cooked undisturbed for three to four minutes I would begin working the pan to try and form a good crust.
That entails holding a hot heavy pan at an angle for several minutes.
You start by lifting the handle and holding one edge of the pan closer to the burner for about a minute, and then rotate the pan about forty-five degrees. Now you are holding another section of the crust closer to the burner. Work like this until you have made it around the entire pan. It’s a great thing to warm up your hands in the frigid winter months.
If you did this right, you can run a spatula along the outside edge of the pan and take a peek at the under crust of the fritatta. It should be golden, because this thing will ultimately be inverted, and that golden crust is the presentation side.
If it’s looking a bit pale, be patient and cook the thing a little longer.
When the crust is complete, throw the whole pan under the broiler to firm up the top (which will become the bottom). All you are looking for is a lightly colored crust, and to make sure that the eggs are cooked all the way through, especially in the center.
Turn your frittata out of the pan, and serve it warm or room temperature, sliced in wedges. It may take some time. It may take some patience. It may even take some practice. But it’s not exactly hard, just time consuming. Ultimately it transforms eggs into something that can be enjoyed at dinner, instead of feeling like you are having breakfast at night. Plus it’s a magnificent device for helping to use up leftovers.
I wonder what my cousin in Italy would think of a turkey and stuffing frittata?