Necessity Is the Mother of Frittata

For Connie

Frittata is the perfect kitchen-sink dish for using up leftovers, for impressing your brunch guests without a ton of work, or for reheating out of the freezer for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I suggest accompanying it with some spring greens or arugula that you’ve dressed lightly with vinaigrette.

Ingredients

  • 15 eggs (see below for notes on scaling)
  • 1½ c half and half, whole milk, or cream
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t dried chervil
  • ¼ t dried basil
  • Generous grind of black pepper
  • Generous grind of fresh nutmeg (or a large pinch if you’re using pre-ground nutmeg)
  • 3–5 cups of various filling ingredients of your choice (see below)
  • 3 T chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, and/or basil
  • ¼ c grated Parmesan (or Romano or Asiago cheese)

Basic Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13 x 9 pan with unsalted butter, or spray well with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Break all the eggs into a big bowl. Add the half and half, milk, or cream, nutmeg, salt, pepper, chervil, and basil. Whisk until the eggs are well homogenized, then set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Scatter all of the filling ingredients in the bottom of the 13 x 9 pan. Give the egg mixture a little more whisking, then carefully pour it over the fillings. If the fillings don’t seem to be evenly distributed through the eggs, stick your fingers in there and swish things around.
  4. Scatter fresh herbs over the top of the dish, then sprinkle with the grated Parmesan.
  5. Bake on middle rack of the oven until the moment the center is no longer jiggly, anywhere from 35 to 55 minutes, depending on which cooking method you use. (See below.) Do not overcook! If you like your eggs soft, you can even take the dish out of the oven while the center is still a bit liquid, because it will continue to cook for a few minutes and then firm up as it cools.
  6. Cool at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Cooking Methods

There are two ways (at least) to cook this dish:

  1. Place the 13 x 9 pan directly on a middle rack of the oven and bake, checking frequently, until the center has just stopped being jiggly, about 35 or 40 minutes.
  2. Cook the dish in a bain-marie (water bath). Place a larger, deeper pan in the oven and put enough water in it so that the water will come about halfway up the sides of the 13 x 9 pan when you place it inside. (Hint: Take a few moments to figure out how much water will be required before you place ingredients in the smaller pan or place either pan in the oven. You will be glad you did.)

    Put the larger pan in the oven before you turn it on, and pour in the pre-determined amount of water. Then preheat the oven to 325°. When the oven is hot and you’ve assembled the dish, very carefully place the filled 13 x 9 pan inside the larger pan containing the water. Bake until the center is no longer liquid. It will take considerably longer with this method. Start checking it for doneness at about 45 minutes, then every five or 10 minutes thereafter until the center has just stopped jiggling.

    Take both pans very carefully out of the oven, then very carefully remove the 13 x 9 pan from the larger pan. Allow to cool before slicing.

Both cooking methods have their merits. If you bake the dish without the water bath, you’ll get chewy edges and more browning on top. You may end up with some bubbles of cheese and lighter and darker spots. The center pieces will be more moist and tender, while the outer pieces will have more caramelization, but may tend to be dry.

If you cook the dish in a bain-marie, you won’t get as much browning, but the entire dish will be extremely moist, tender, and delicate, and it will look very smooth and lovely. It’ll also be more uniformly moist, which makes it ideal for freezing and reheating in the microwave.

Filling Ingredients

Potatoes. Take two or three potatoes, dice them, place in a saucepan with enough liquid to cover the potatoes, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. The liquid may be salted water; chicken, beef, or vegetable stock; milk, buttermilk, half and half, or cream. After poaching, drain the potatoes well.

Cheese. Use anywhere from eight to 16 ounces, according to the desired level of cheesiness. I like gruyere, fontina, sharp cheddar, Irish cheddar, asiago. Any reasonably hard, flavorful cheese will work. Grate the cheese coarsely, shred with a food processor, or cut into small dice. I made one recent batch of frittata with three kinds of cheese left over from a cocktail party: aged gouda, sharp cheddar, and some other hard orange cheese.

Vegetables. Try spinach, kale, blanched broccoli florets, green peas, sauteed peppers, onions, or garlic. If using firm greens, toss them with few pinches of salt while still wet, then wilt them in a skillet over medium-high heat with a small amount of olive oil or stock.

Mushrooms. Use white button or Cremini mushrooms, or any of the “wild” types you can get all over the place these days. Saute them in a little butter first. You can even use canned mushrooms. Just don’t tell me about it.

Meats. Try cooked, crumbled bacon or pancetta. Chopped leftover ham or pork chops. Shredded chicken or turkey. Cooked ground beef. Cooked, drained bulk sausage, or cooked sausage links that have been cut into bite-sized pieces. For one recent batch, I even repurposed some Armour frozen meatballs left over from a Christmas Eve spaghetti feast. (See details in the notes section below.)

Various and Sundry Notes

On Scaling

For smaller batches, adjust as follows:

  • 8 x 8 pan:
    8 eggs
    ¾ c half and half, milk, or cream
    ¼ t salt (scale back other seasonings as appropriate)
    1½–2½ c filling ingredients
  • 9 x 9 pan:
    9 eggs
    ¾ c half and half, milk, or cream
    ¼ t salt (scale back other seasonings as appropriate)
    2–3 c filling ingredients

On Milk

You can substitute two percent milk or skim milk, but the finished product won’t taste as rich.

On Nutmeg

Nutmeg is one of those spices that’s far better if you grind it right before you need it. It’s easy enough to do by buying whole nutmeg cloves (or whatever they call them, whole seeds, whole nuts) and then grating them as you need it using the finest screen of a box grater. Or you could use a fine microplane, maybe.

But nowadays you can buy nutmeg that’s crushed into small chunks and sold in a pepper-grinder sort of bottle. That’s the way to go, because then in an instant you can have freshly grated nutmeg without any hassle or cleanup.

I put nutmeg in almost any egg dish, or anything else that is going to contain cream as a major ingredient, like a béchamel sauce.

On Meatballs

I bought a big bag of Armour frozen meatballs to put in the spaghetti and meatballs that I made for Christmas Eve dinner. I made the sauce from scratch, but I didn’t have time to make meatballs, so I gave in to the temptation to buy frozen ones. They were kind of bland, but they tasted pretty good once they’d simmered for a few hours in my delicious marinara sauce. But I digress….

The bag I bought contained more meatballs than I could use in one batch of marinara, so I’d been trying to think of something to do with the leftovers. I decided to try putting them into a frittata.

I didn’t want to put the bland meatballs straight into the frittata as is. They needed some flavorizing first. So I placed them in a saucepan with enough water to cover, then added a packet of caldo de tomate (tomato bouillon), a teaspoon or so of Italian seasonings, and about a cup of red wine. I simmered the meatballs in the liquid for half an hour or so while I prepared the other ingredients. Then I transferred them to a colander with a slotted spoon and allowed them to cool for a few minutes. When they were cool enough to handle, I sliced each meatball in half and placed the pieces in the bottom of the 13 x 9 pan with the other fillings (three cheeses and diced potatoes).

The meatball cooking liquid ended up very tasty, so I also used it to poach the diced potatoes before I added them to the 13 x 9 pan.

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