The large, round, deep skillet was filled to the brim with meat, vegetables, cheese and eggs. I had watched Aunt Lil slice tomatoes, peppers and onions from the backyard garden she and Uncle Paul cared for as if it were their baby. I winced when she almost nicked her knuckle as she grated a big chunk of cheese. With a time-worn knife, she cut up some ham. All these fresh ingredients were cooking gently, immersed in a mixture of whisked eggs and cream: Uncle Paul was creating a frittata.
At the time, I had no idea what that meant. My Aunt Lil said free-taaa-ta, as if she were an Italian Food Network cook. In fact, she was eastern European and my uncle was pure Hungarian. Together, they created my introduction to this Italian dish that is similar to an omelet with a base of eggs and fillings of vegetables and cheese and sometimes meat.
Unlike an omelet, a frittata is most often finished off in the oven. It's a bit like a quiche, but it has no crust.
Since that first taste of frittata, I've discovered it's a dish that everyone needs to know how to make. For one thing, it is outrageously fast and easy to prepare. You don't need to wait for the summer harvest, either. With a base of whipped-up eggs and a little cream, you can add just about whatever you want. It's a great way to use up little bits of leftovers that are tucked into the refrigerator. Cooked potatoes? Toss them in. Boiled rice with red lentils? Why not? Chopped bell peppers getting a little wrinkly? Just chop them up and you've got another addition for the makings of a frittata. The flavor combinations are endless. Best of all, though, a frittata is a delicious and satisfying meal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper.
Frittatas are perfect when you're entertaining. They are just as delicious at room temperature as they are hot from the oven. This means you can have space in the oven for other parts of the meal and you will have one less thing to worry about preparing when guests arrive.
Roasted Broccoli, Grape Tomato and Parmesan Frittata was created because I've had broccoli in my refrigerator on a consistent basis lately. Since I've discovered Ina Garten's idea for roasting broccoli, I just can't get enough of this good-for-you green vegetable. I noticed grape tomatoes on sale at the grocery store. I had a big chunk of Parmesan cheese in my refrigerator. Perfect.
This recipe serves four hungry people when you add some toasted whole-grain bread or a warm corn muffin and some fresh fruit. If you have more hungry stomachs to feed, just use more eggs and be more generous with the add-ins. And if you are cooking for just one or two, reduce the amount of each ingredient and use a small oven-safe skillet or individual gratin dishes.
In my aunt and uncle's tiny Chicago kitchen so many years ago, Uncle Paul lifted the heavy pan full of frittata and slid it into the oven for just a moment or two under the broiler to finish cooking the eggs and turn the whole surface golden brown. Aunt Lil cut into the puffy concoction of eggs, vegetables and ham and said, "Come on, Susie, have a piece of free-taaa-ta."
Roasted Broccoli, Grape Tomato and Parmesan Frittata
1 or 2 stalks of broccoli, cut into small florets, about 3 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
6 large eggs
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 of a medium onion, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking pan with sides with aluminum foil. I found that a jelly-roll pan was just right.
In a large bowl, toss broccoli florets with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, making sure that each floret is coated with the olive oil. Spread the mixture in a single layer on prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, until the broccoli florets are crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle the broccoli with 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Set aside. Turn oven off.
Very carefully use hot mitts to move oven rack to about three inches below the broiler. Preheat the broiler.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and half-and-half until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a 10-inch ovenproof non-stick skillet or cast-iron pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot. Add onion. Sauté over medium heat until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes and sauté, stirring until the tomatoes are heated through. Stir in the roasted broccoli.
Pour the egg mixture into the pan. While the frittata is cooking and the edges begin to set, use a rubber spatula to gently lift the sides of the frittata, pulling toward the center. Tilt the pan a little, allowing the loose egg mixture to flow underneath. Cook this way until the eggs are almost set, about 5 minutes. When the frittata has set around the edges of the pan, but is still somewhat liquid in the middle, place the skillet under the broiler. Broil until the surface is set and golden brown, about 1 minute. Carefully sprinkle remaining Parmesan over the frittata and continue to broil just until cheese melts. Watch carefully. Overcooked eggs will become tough.
Remove frittata from oven. Allow to set for just a few minutes. Cut the frittata into wedges and serve on warmed plates. Serves 4.
Tip from the cook
--Believe me - fresh Parmesan is so much more flavorful than the kind in the cardboard package. It is a little more expensive, but when used discreetly to add a flavorful garnish, it is a smart purchase. A chunk of Parmesan will keep well when wrapped loosely in waxed paper, then plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator.