Flipping for the frittata

October 17, 2007|By ROB KASPER

I may not be able to bench-press 300 pounds. I may not grasp the subtleties of the international balance of payments. But I can flip a frittata.

When I tossed one out of the skillet recently, it was a personal culinary milestone. It was also supper.

I am a latecomer to the frittata, which is the Italian version of the omelet. The one my wife and I made for supper the other night, loaded with pieces of Italian sausage, fresh herbs and garden tomatoes, has sold me on the concept.

I enjoy an occasional omelet, but it is eggy, soupy and French.

A frittata, on the other hand, has an egg base but embraces its many other ingredients. Instead of merely resting atop the egg mixture, pieces of sausage or sage dive right in. Some make it all the way to the bottom of the pan.

The result is a firmer, more substantial dish, one that you could serve to guys (this one, anyway) at supper.

The frittata has another distinguishing characteristic. An omelet is folded. A frittata is flipped.

Getting a six-egg frittata out of a large skillet -- turning it over while keeping it whole -- turned out to be a challenge.

The technique recommended by Nancy Verde Barr in Make It Italian, the cookbook my wife and I used to make frittatas, was to place a flat cooking sheet over the skillet, flip the frittata onto the sheet, then ease it back into the pan to finish cooking.

On our first attempt, a frittata made for Sunday brunch failed. The trouble was that the frittata and the skillet were wider than the cooking sheet. It still tasted good, a savory mix of eggs, cherry tomatoes and herbs. But it looked awful.

So a day or two later, we tried again.

We cracked six eggs and put them in a large mixing bowl. In her book, Barr said that frittatas were a great place to put leftovers, such as yesterday's cooked potatoes.

Sadly, we did not have any leftovers. So we cooked some scallions and some chopped-up pieces of Italian sausage.

We did have plenty of fresh tomatoes. The extraordinarily hot weather we have experienced this fall might be a sign of global warming. But it also has meant that the cherry tomatoes in my vegetable garden have kept producing. We had a cup or so of the little tomatoes to add to the frittata.

We also had plenty of garden-grown herbs. Bits of basil, thyme, oregano and sage joined in the dish.

We whisked the eggs lightly in a large mixing bowl until the yolks and whites were just blended, not foaming. Then we folded in the scallions, the sausage bits, the tomatoes, the herbs and half a cup of shredded mozzarella.

Meanwhile, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil had coated the bottom of the skillet, which heated up on a high flame.

We poured in the egg mixture, turned the heat down to medium and immediately went to work harassing the bottom of the mixture with the side of a fork. The goal of this harassment, the cookbook told us, was to continually break the bottom of the mixture to allow the uncooked egg to run through. In other words, the idea was to firm up the mixture, in preparation for the flip.

In addition to the fork action, we also employed a spatula to keep the bottom from sticking to the pan.

When the bottom of the frittata had turned a light brown, the time had come to turn it over.

I put on two insulated mittens and stepped toward the stove.

I figured that the key to success was to find a larger landing spot, something wider than the metal baking sheet. That, I determined, would be the peel, the large wooden paddle that I use to put pizza and loaves of bread in a hot oven.

I slapped the peel on top of the skillet. I took a deep breath. Then in a quick, clean and jerky motion, I turned the skillet over, dumping the contents onto the board.

When I lifted up the overturned skillet, I saw the smooth brown bottom of the frittata.

Mission accomplished.

A short while later, after the frittata had finished cooking, my wife and I sat down and enjoyed the dish. The tomatoes were sweet, the sausage slightly salty and the herbs piquant.

"You know," my wife said, "the taste isn't really affected by the flip."

I disagreed. For me, the thrill of a frittata is all in the flip.


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