Broccoli frittata cooked in a cast iron pan can be finished off in the oven, where it’ll puff up and fluff up and turn cheesy-golden.
What is a frittata?
Frittata means ‘a fry-up’. So technically, we could be tucking into our bacon, eggs and sausages and claim we usually have a frittata for breakfast.
But just as ‘fry-up’ in English immediately carries a waft of bacon and hash browns, a frittata in Italian is eggy. It’s not just anything fried up, end of: it’s anything fried then drowned in eggy soup finished off on the hob, under the grill or in the oven.
I do mean ‘anything fried’ because the flavours/fillings are multitudinous. Just on one (albeit vast) Italian recipe website there are frittatas with zucchini, prawns, asparagus, peas, aubergine, mushrooms, radishes, ham, all kinds of cheese and even nettles.
So really anything goes, but one caution: if you want to keep to the Italian frittata style, don’t put it ALL into one frittata.
It’s symptomatic of the non-Italian approach to pasta: whack the whole content of your fridge into it and drown it in cream and cheese! No, grazie. In Italian cooking less is more, that’s how they get away with eating pasta for starters.
Quiche or omelette?
Some say that frittata is a crustless quiche but not in my view. It is much closer to an omelette, being eggs with a small addition of dairy. A quiche is a mix of cream and milk with a small addition of eggs – entirely the opposite.
The other difference is the cooking method. A quiche is always baked, whether in a pastry case or not.
Frittata on the other hand is classically cooked all on the hob: when the bottom is set, you perform the masterful trick of flipping it onto a plate then sliding back into the pan onto the reverse side. It never works neatly for me.
My recipe isn’t quite orthodox Italian but that’s how I like my frittata. In the Italian cannon the eggs are only ever mixed with grated Parmesan. But I find a spoonful of crème fraiche makes the mix fluffier, especially when it rises in the oven – which is the other diversion from the cookbook fir the reason clearly spelt above.
How I make frittata
I agree with the Italians that you shouldn’t overcrowd the pan with flavour ingredients.
In this recipe it’s broccoli, since there are always a few miserable florets left in the fridge by the end of the week, which can be put to excellent use for Friday dinner.
Cut into even smaller florets, broccoli need only a few minutes in the pan, in the company of olive oil, to soften and char. In the meantime, I beat the eggs vigorously with one tablespoon of cream or crème fraiche per every two eggs, and a pinch of salt.
This frittata also has cheese in it which is stirred into eggs – even Italians allow to treat cheese as a staple rather than a flavourful ingredient.
The egg mixture goes into the pan following a knob of butter, because there’s absolutely no better aroma than eggs cooked in butter.
And once the bottom is cooked and the sides are pulling away, I top the frittata with extra cheese, Parmesan in this instance, and slip it into a hot oven for about ten minutes.
It rises, it puffs up deliciously and comes out much airier and more delicate in texture than if I only used eggs without the cream.
I love it hot from the oven, for lunch or dinner but surprisingly (cold eggs? eew!) it tastes good on the following day, with mayo (don’t judge me).
See above, anything can be fried up/precooked as the flavour base. My favourite compositions apart from this one are: mushroom, spinach and, decadently, bacon.
Variations also involve the cooking method. You can do it the easiest way as per my recipe: hob – oven. You can switch your oven on to the grill function and only just blast the top of the frittata with heat.
Or you can accept the challenge and do it like the Italians: invert it onto a plate, then slide it back into the pan upside down. It helps it cook through if you pop a lid on while one, then the other side cooks, to ensure no raw bits of egg lurk inside.
More egg recipes
Classic cheese and mushroom omelette is the perfect breakfast or brunch dish. Unlike frittata, it is usually made individually, for one person.
With Parmesan and panache, souffle omelette is like a fluffy meringue that you can have for breakfast.
Eggs and oil plus lots of patience: homemade mayonnaise is always better than shop bought.
More Italian recipes
A little like frittata: carbonara pasta bake with bacon, Pecorino and egg yolks. No cream added and only a little cheese make the dish a little skinnier but just as delicious.
Pasta fritta with asparagus, garlic and mint, is the proof that sometimes leftovers are better than the original dish. Next time you cook pasta, boil more than you need.
Aubergine parmigiana in homemade tomato sauce, with mozzarella, Parmesan and basil - the classic. It's a delicious standalone dish but also a good side to a steak.