Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis says that her mother would make frittatas, the Italian egg dish, with whatever leftovers she had in the refrigerator. "
That was the joke," she tells viewers in segment of her cooking show. "What's in the frittata today, Mama?"
What better dish to serve Mom on Mother's Day?
A frittata is quick and easy, and the kids can help. As a bonus, Mom wakes to a clean fridge.
An omelet without the fold and a quiche without the crust, the frittata has its own selling points: It can be sliced and eaten, hot or cold, with a fork or fingers.
It can contain a single ingredient in addition to the eggs — meat, cheese, a vegetable or an herb — or any of those foods in any pleasing combination.
"Marylanders sure love their corn," said Kevin Mullaney of Soup's On on Preston Street in Baltimore. His Southwestern frittata, with Anaheim chilies, roasted peppers and roasted corn, tomatillo and pepper jack cheese, is the most popular on his menu.
"I wanted something that was going to be high protein and warm and good for brunch, lunch or dinner," said the Baltimore native, who operates this restaurant and two more in Florida with his twin brother, Keith.
"They are so easy to make" says Mullaney, whose customers are most often college students from the neighborhood. "The prep time is, like, 5 minutes and the cooking time is 20 to 25 minutes. A frittata can be vegetarian ... and because it has no crust, it is perfect for a gluten-free diet."
Frittata is an Italian word that comes from the verb "to fry," but in truth it can be baked or finished under the broiler, too.
And recipes reflect the bounty of the seasons. Asparagus, arugula, shallots and green onions, with fontina cheese, say spring. Mullaney makes a butternut squash, sage, ricotta and pancetta frittata in the fall. And one with portabello mushrooms and smoked mozzarella or Jarlsberg in winter.
His creations are as deep as a lemon meringue pie, with layers of vegetable, cheese and meat that demand a fork. But frittatas can also be as thin as a cracker and cut into squares and eaten like one, too.
If there is a challenge to the frittata, Mullaney admits, it is making sure that it is cooked through — it is made with raw eggs, after all — but not over-browned.
"Use organic ingredients," urges Mullaney, who makes a list of organic soups for his menu, too. And he likes to use eggs from free-range, hormone-free, grain-fed hens.
"A frittata is about eggs, after all," he said. "And you will taste the difference."
Asparagus, arugula, fontina and prosciutto frittata
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
6 to 8 ounces arugula, chopped coarsely
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Vegetable spray for pan
4 ounces prosciutto, sliced very thin
4 ounces fontina cheese, sliced
In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute shallots and scallions until soft, about 3 minutes. Add arugula, asparagus, salt and pepper and saute for 2 minutes.
Beat 12 eggs, add lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and mix. Add vegetable mixture and blend evenly.
Place half of the egg mixture into pan coated with non-stick spray. Layer with prosciutto and cheese slices. Pour remaining egg mixture on top and place in 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly brown and firm to the touch.
Remove and place on wire rack and allow to cool.
—Courtesy of Kevin Mullaney of Soup's On
Chicken sausage, sun-dried tomato and zucchini frittata
1 pound fresh chicken sausage, casings removed
3/4 pound small zucchini
2 large cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white (optional)
2 tablespoons finely shredded basil leaves
1/2 cup cooked macaroni, tossed with 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
6 dry-packed, sun-dried tomatoes halves, soaked in very hot water for 20 minutes, squeezed dry and finely chopped
3/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
9 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
In non-stick or cast iron frying pan, cook sausage until no trace of pink remains, but do not overcook. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard fat in pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch springform pan with vegetable spray.
Trim and coarsely grate zucchini. Mince garlic. Return frying pan to medium heat and saute zucchini in olive oil about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add white wine and cook until wine evaporates. Remove from heat and stir in basil.
In a bowl, combine macaroni, tomatoes, cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and mustard.
Layer first sausage, then zucchini mixture and then pasta mixture. Pour egg mixture evenly over the ingredients.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake about 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook until golden brown, about 40 minutes more.
Let cool for 20 minutes. Loosen with a small knife, remove springform sides. Cut into wedges and serve.
—Recipe adapted from William Sonoma's "Breakfast."
Apple and cheddar frittata
8 large eggs plus 3 large egg whites
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1 cup)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 Gala apples, peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise into 1/8 -inch slices
Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack set in top third.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, egg whites, and half the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
In medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet, melt butter. Add egg mixture. While it cooks, arrange apple slices on top in a circular pattern starting at outside edge. and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Transfer skillet to oven. Bake until frittata is set in the center and cheese is browned, about 20 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, release frittata onto cutting board and let rest five minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.
—Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food
Tips for making the perfect frittata
Whatever ingredients you choose for your frittata, they will probably need to be cooked (meats) or sauted (vegetables) before the eggs are added. Even arugula and spinach benefit if their flavors are released by heat.
The more you whip the eggs, the lighter your frittata will be.
If you don't think you have the skill to pan-fry the frittata and then flip it over without breaking it, you can brown the bottom and then finish the top in a few minutes under the broiler.
There are also special frittata pans that link together, allowing you to flip the frittata from one fry pan to the other easily. Or you can bake a frittata in a springform pan or in a pie plate or a deep-dish pie plate. Or you can make individual frittatas, using cupcake pans or ramekins.
Whatever method you use, make sure you use a non-stick cooking surface, or coat the surface with a non-stick spray so the frittata can be easily removed.
If baking your frittata, put it into the oven using a cookie sheet to catch any spills.
The egg/filling ratio can fit your personal taste. Sometimes the eggs are simply what holds all the ingredients together. And sometimes, the frittata is merely dotted with meat or vegetables or cheese. However you make your frittata, make sure the filling is evenly distributed.
It is fine if the top of the frittata is a little runny. Once again, it is a matter of personal taste.
Frittatas can be served at room temperature, which makes them perfect for a buffet menu, or cold the next day for lunch at the office.
Frittatas can be served with a fruit salad or a green salad or, in winter, a hearty soup.