Frittata: The Other Omelet

Frittatas, as they’re known in Italy, or tortillas, as they’re known in Spain and the Basque region of France,  have another advantage over their omelet cousins: they can be served at room temperature – my favorite temperature when I’ve got guests.  In fact, frittatas are often cut into slender finger-food-sized wedges or little squares and served with drinks as an hors d’oeuvre or tapa.  And, like omelets, they’re a welcoming home for leftovers or kitchen odds and ends.  Yesterday, the odds and ends in my kitchen were a big onion, a couple of shallots and lots of herbs from the garden.  If I’d planned to make the frittata, I might have foraged for a few other ingredients — it would also have been good with spinach, sauteed mushrooms or quickly cooked peppers.  Next time.

You’ll need a deep skillet for your frittata.  I use a 9 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet with high sides that I bought in the hardware store ages ago.  Make sure that whatever pan you use, it’s well-seasoned and spotless, so that you can slip the frittata out of it easily.  You’ll also need a silicone spatula or table knife to cajole the frittata from the sides of the pan, something to cover the pan and a large platter.  There’s only one tricky moment with frittatas and that’s the flip.  I spray or oil the pan’s lid, flip the frittata onto it and then slide the omelet back into the pan.  Of course, your lid’s got to be lipless.

You can also cook the frittata stovetop and then, instead of flipping it, run it under the broiler for a few minutes — usually under 5 minutes — to set the top.  You’ll miss the drama of the Olympic-worthy flip, but you’ll still have a great frittata.


Makes 4 servings for lunch; 8 servings for hors d’oeuvre

About 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 big Spanish onion, peeled, trimmed and finely diced or chopped (to make 1 to 1 1/2 cups)

2 shallots, peeled, trimmed and finely diced (optional)

9 large eggs

1/4 cup (approximately; you can use more if you’d like) minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, cilantro thyme and rosemary (I went heavy on the chives)

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

You’ll need a heavy, straight-sided skillet with a diameter of approximately 10 inches (a little smaller is better than a little larger – I use an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet); a lid for the skillet; and a plate that’s at least as large as the pan – you’ll use the plate to flip over the frittata.  Alternately, if your lid is flat, you can use it instead of the plate.

Pour about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil into the skillet and warm it over medium heat.  Add the onions and the shallots, if you’re using them, and turn them around until they glisten with oil.  Lower the heat, season wtih salt and pepper, and cook slowly until the onions are soft and lightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes.  Spoon the onions into a bowl.

Carefully wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.  If anything has stuck to the bottom of the pan, you should wash and dry it – you need a nice clean surface, so the frittata will be easy to unmold.

Working in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with salt and pepper, then stir in the onions and herbs.

Put the skillet over medium-high heat and pour in about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the eggs to the pan.  Immediately, lower the heat and let the eggs cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes.  Run a silicone spatula or a table knife around the edges of the pan to release the frittata, then cover the pan and cook slowly for another 8 to 12 minutes, or until the top is just set.  Every couple of minutes, run your spatula around the sides of the pan and just under the frittata to keep it free from sticking.

Lightly oil the plate or lid (you can do this with cooking spray), place it over the skillet and carefully turn out the frittata.  Wipe the skillet clean, return it to low heat, add another tablespoon of the oil and slip the frittata back into the pan.  Cook 5 minutes more to set and brown the underside.  Or, don’t flip the frittata and run it under the broiler.

Transfer the frittata to a serving platter and allow it to come to room temperature before cutting and serving.