Improv Cooking Basics: Frittata

frittata

I promised this one was coming in the strata post, and I keep my promises.

I’d say strata is the perfect thing for a summer influx of veggies, but it’s not just for summer – strata is great for any time of the year, anytime you have little bits of items and leftovers in your fridge and pantry that you want to use up. It’s great for winter, too, as it gets some good stovetop and oven heat going on in the house, but not too much for summer cooking.

What is a frittata? It’s basically a flat omelet. At its most basic level, it’s eggs, milk, and possibly cheese in an oiled pan, cooked on the stovetop until it sets on the edges, and finished in the oven. Better frittatas contain veggies, proteins, and/or other cheeses to add bulk and flavor to the dish. It’s great on its own, or accompanied by a salad or other light side dish. Frittatas can be light meals or absurdly rich affairs if you like to overload them with things. I prefer to keep them somewhere in the middle.

Frittata is another lesson in improv cooking, seeing for yourself if different flavor combinations play together well. I don’t think I’ve ever made the same frittata twice, simply because I make it a) to use up stuff and b) it’s a good “oh crap I still have to make dinner” kind of dish that tends to impress people. It’s pretty, cheap, proteinaceous (it’s a word because I taught English and therefore I’m right), and reduces waste.

Today’s picture is a frittata both inspired by and a result of a sushi night – we had little bits of random sushi fillings, so I thought I’d try making a crab roll strata. And it worked – imitation crab, cream cheese, frozen peas, and shallot. If that sounds awful to you, don’t make it – use a combination that’s tasty for you. But if you’re intrigued, and/or you’ve had a crab roll, I’ll tell you that that combo was pretty friggin’ delicious as a frittata. Other successful combos I’ve made include:

  • cheddar, onion, red pepper, and potato
  • bacon, potato, and onion
  • peas, bell peppers, and green onion
  • mushrooms, garlic, and spinach

Actually, as I write this list, I realize that anything I put on a pizza, I would put into a frittata. So it’s just as versatile, if not more so (since you’re not competing with sauce), as making a pizza.

As a final word, I’ll tell you that if you don’t already have a cast-iron skillet, go out and get yourself one. If I were stuck on a deserted island and I could have any cooking implement from my kitchen, it would be my cast-iron skillet. It is, by far, the most versatile thing I own, and consistently makes delicious food, whether or not I have power in the house.

What I’ll give you here are the basics, with variations at the bottom and suggestions for add-ins. You be the boss and decide what you like. Go beyond! Plus Ultra!

Basic Frittata

You will need:

  • 8 large eggs, possibly more
  • 1/4-1/3 c milk
  • 3/4-1 c cheese, shredded or crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Heat butter or oil in an oven-safe skillet on the stovetop over medium heat (again, get yourself a cast-iron if you don’t already have one! But if you don’t have one, any oven-safe skillet will do). This is where you’d add most of your add-ins, after the pan is hot.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and cheese. When the pan is hot and the butter is melted, pour the egg mixture into the pan so that the cheese is evenly distributed. Do not stir. Don’t even think about stirring, unless you want scrambled eggs.
  4. Allow the egg mixture to cook until the edges are just starting to set, about 7-10 minutes. Sprinkle salt evenly over the frittata.
  5. Transfer the pan into the preheated oven. Bake the frittata for an additional 10-15 minutes until the center is set. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Variations:

Variations: If you are adding vegetables and/or proteins to the frittata, you need to sauté them in the oil before adding the egg mixture. So, in Step 2, after the oil or butter is melted and the pan is hot, add veggies until softened, then add your egg mixture. Variations below will tell you when to add what vegetables and other ingredients. Rules for adding items:

  • Stick to no more than 3 c of add-ins – otherwise, your frittata might not hold together.
  • If you’re using a fat-rich protein, like bacon or sausage, omit the oil or butter and add this to the pan first. Use small pieces, or make sure your sausage is broken into small bits. Use no more than 1/2 c of salty proteins.
  • Start with aromatics. This means sauteeing your onions and/or garlic first until softened.
  • Add hardier, longer-cooking vegetables next. Think peppers, potatoes, and mushrooms.
  • Add cooked lean proteins, like chicken or fish, at this point. I don’t recommend using raw meat, other than bacon or sausage, for a frittata. Remember, your main protein in here is egg.
  • Add shorter-cooking vegetables last. Think leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and chard.
  • Salt with each addition of vegetables. Ever wonder why your food doesn’t taste like a restaurant’s food? You might say the extra ingredient is salt. Don’t salt like the sea, but add enough (no more than a pinch or so) to bring out the flavor of the vegetables.

Mushroom and spinach frittata: In step 2, after the oil is hot, add 1 c sliced mushrooms to the skillet, and cook for 5 minutes, salting and peppering to taste. Add 2-3 c spinach to skillet, and cook until spinach is wilted, salting and peppering to taste. Proceed with Step 3, and omit adding the salt in Step 4.

Potato bacon frittata: Omit the butter or oil, and use cheddar cheese or blue cheese for the cheese (if you choose blue cheese, use no more than 1/4 c). Add 1/2 c chopped bacon or side meat to the skillet in Step 2, and heat until bacon releases at least 1 tbsp oil. Add 1/2 c minced onion and 1 c thinly sliced or diced potato (red potato works beautifully here) and saute until the potato is softened, about 5-10 minutes. Proceed with Step 3.

Onions, peppers and peas: In Step 2, after the oil is hot, add 1/4 minced onion to skillet until softened, about 1-2 minutes. Add sliced or diced bell peppers, and saute for about 4-5 minutes. Add peas, then proceed with Step 3.

Crab roll: Omit cheese in the egg mixture. Saute 1 minced shallot in oil, then add up to 1 c of diced imitation crab meat to the skillet in Step 2, and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 c peas, then add egg mixture and salt. After the egg mixture has set at the edges in Step 4, dot cream cheese, about 2-4 oz, evenly on top of the frittata. Proceed with recipe. Sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning.

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