Preparing flavorful frittatas

May 15, 2002|By Donna Crivello | Donna Crivello,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When I was in my early teens and just becoming more aware of the different foods outside my home, I wondered why my mother never folded over her omelets.

I would watch her slide the almost-cooked, eggy, plate-sized disk onto a bigger plate, then slip it back into the pan to cook it on the other side. At other times, she would finish cooking it with a lid or under the broiler.

This was a frittata, an Italian omelet that has cheese and vegetables mixed in with the eggs and is "baked" in the pan. It is slightly firmer than the classic French omelet because it is cooked slowly over a lower heat and its center finishes last.

Frittatas of all varieties became a standard item on our cafe menus since we first started brunches, and at home, my overnight guests look forward to frittata breakfasts.

My preferred method of finishing a frittata is in the oven or under the broiler. Because it takes a bit of practice to slide it in and out of the pan, you can let it cook on its own and use that time to arrange the accompaniments.

Fresh fruit, toasted bagels or muffins, and roasted potatoes with frittata make great family breakfasts or holiday brunches. Or you can even serve them with green salads for Sunday night suppers.

Here is my recipe for a spring frittata with asparagus, smoked salmon and Italian cheeses. Following the basic method and ingredient equivalents, you can create your own frittata with your favorite cheeses, seasonal vegetables and even smoked meats or sausage.

A few rules to follow: All vegetables (except for the thinnest tomatoes) should be cooked first. The moisture from raw mushrooms, eggplant or spinach will make your frittata runny and will dilute the tastes. Vegetables can be precooked in the oven to save time, but sauteing them in the pan gives the frittata more flavor.

I always add ricotta cheese to keep it light, but drained cottage is a good substitute.

When you're planning ingredients, consider the flavor balance. A tangy Gorgonzola might overpower a delicate asparagus but be a perfect match for red peppers, onions and spicy Italian sausage.

This recipe can be doubled and also downsized for the individual frittata. About 2 eggs per person makes the best frittata.

Because every stove top and oven can be a little different, be sure to keep a watchful eye on all cooking. Err on the side of undercooking, because the frittata will continue to cook even out of the oven. An overdone frittata will be rubbery and dry. If it looks and feels done - a little soft to the touch in the center - it probably is.

Donna Crivello co-owns and operates Donna's Coffee Bars and Cafes in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, and teaches cooking classes.

Spring Frittata

Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil or pan spray

6 large eggs, lightly beaten in medium-sized bowl

1/3 cup ricotta (skim or whole milk)

1/3 cup cream or milk

1 cup (about 3 ounces) shredded cheeses (2 or 3 kinds: fontinella, smoked mozzarella, Asiago or Romano)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh herb such as tarragon, dill or basil

1 to 2 shallots, peeled and sliced

8 to 10 asparagus spears, 2 inches trimmed off bottoms, and cut in half, lengthwise

pinch of fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 ounces smoked salmon, cut into strips (optional)

1 ripe small Roma tomato, very thinly sliced

Heat broiler or oven to 400 degrees. Coat bottom and sides of a 9-inch or 10-inch skillet or omelet pan with olive oil or use pan spray. If using a nonstick-surface pan, wipe with paper towel coated with oil or sprayed lightly. Have all ingredients measured and ready.

Using a fork, in bowl with the eggs, beat in the ricotta and cream or milk, then add the cheeses and the fresh herbs. Set aside.

Heat pan to a medium heat. Saute shallots and prepared asparagus. Add a little salt and pepper. When asparagus cooks to a bright green, remove 8 halves with tongs and set aside. Adjust the heat to medium-low and pour the egg-and-cheese mixture in the pan over the remaining asparagus and shallots. Keep temperature high enough to set the eggs, but do not burn the bottom.

Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or longer until the bottom is setting and lightly browning (use a spatula and gently lift to check under). When bottom and sides are firming, and center is still runny, add the smoked salmon (if using), then arrange the remaining asparagus spears on the top in a sun-burst design with tips pointing outward. Place slices of tomato in between asparagus.

Carefully lift the pan and set it under the broiler or in the oven. Finish cooking for 3 to 5 minutes about 4 inches from the broiler or 5 to 7 minutes in the oven or until the top is set and lightly browned.

Do not over bake. (Note: It will take a little longer in the oven than under a broiler.)

Using a dry potholder or kitchen towel, remove hot pan. With a spatula, carefully lift under frittata and slide from pan onto plate.

Divide into quarters. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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