Frittatas are one of the smartest edible inventions of all time. They can be eaten without fuss or reservation at any time of day. They are tasty hot, cold, or at room temperature. Sliced just so, they can be fashioned into a sandwich, or cut into bite-sized pieces and passed off as an hors d’oeuvre. But, most satisfyingly for anyone who’s ever gotten a little too excited at the farmers' market, by a sausage selection, or at the cheese shop, they’re a super smart way to clean out the fridge. With certain ratios in mind you can whip up one of these crowd-friendly meals with little to no stress. And shouldn’t that be the point?
A few things to keep in mind as you master the frittata:
The better the raw product, the more delicious your final result. This is another case when you really want to buy the best eggs you have access to. I like to start with 10 to 12 eggs (for 4 to 6 adults). Why a range? Because I rarely have a whole dozen laying around. Twelve eggs are great, but you don’t have to make a special trip for a new carton. I’ve squeezed by with nine eggs in a 10-inch skillet but that one was kinda skinny. The rule is pretty simple though: same number of eggs to diameter (in inches) or your skillet. 10 to 12 in a 10- to 12-inch skillet; 6 to 8 in an 8-inch, and so on.
I generally recommend nonstick for egg cookery because breakfast should not be stressful or scary. However, frittatas get finished in the oven, which means the skillet has to go in there too. And while a lot of advancements have been made in the non-stick department, I still feel funny about sticking a coated skillet in any oven hotter than 350°F. Instead, I like a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. I know, I know, I’m always recommending cast iron. But it really is the best bet here, and so many other times and places. So start checking yard sales for used ones (best prices!) and take care of it. You’ll thank me in 50 years.
Full-fat dairy—whether it’s milk, yogurt, sour cream, crème fraîche or even softened cream cheese—is one of the keys to a tender, unctuous (rather than bouncy and dry) frittata. For a standard size frittata (that’s a 10- to 12-egger) you’ll want to whisk about ½ cup of dairy into the eggs until the mixture is homogenous. This is just enough to add silkiness without making the frittata too wet. Which brings us to the interesting question: Aren’t we just making a crustless quiche? No, friends, we’re not. A quiche has a much higher dairy-to-egg ratio (and sometimes just egg yolks) than a frittata. The result is more like a savory custard baked inside a crust than a large-format omelet. Which come to think of it, is a great way to describe a frittata.
If you want to skip the cheese in a frittata, I might suggest that you just make scrambled eggs. Cheese adds great flavor to the egg base, helps to season the thing, and adds body. Oh, and fat is important for providing moisture and tenderness in a skillet full of relatively lean protein. For a standard size frittata, start with about a cup (roughly 4 ounces) of cheese, shredded or crumbled. Fontina, cheddar, and Gruyère are all good melty options, but goat cheese and feta make nice additions as well. Whatever cheese you choose, whisk it well with the eggs and dairy. Most frittatas can handle about ½ cup more cheese on top of that. Literally. Sprinkle the excess fromage over the top, where it helps with browning and forms a protective cheese shield that prevents the eggs from overcooking during their last minute or two under the broiler. You could swap that extra ½ cup for something more pungent (Parmesan or Pecorino) or go the other route and dollop generous spoonfuls of fresh ricotta over top. Or, for extra credit, do both.
Photo by Philippe Desnerck via Getty Images
Let’s back up a little bit. Eggs are the bulk of the business, we covered that. Cheese, check; dairy, check. But we’ve got to build a flavor foundation. Alliums—onions and onion-like things—are ideal and I think all frittatas need them. Depending on what you use and how you cook them, they can add heat, sweetness, a little texture, a lot of texture, etc. You’ve got options: chopped or sliced yellow or red onion, a bunch of scallions, a crap-ton of chives. Cooked in the skillet before adding the eggs or mixed raw into the base (in the case of the more herbal varieties), onions infuse the eggs with big flavor, which is important for a thing that only takes 20 minutes to cook.
Additions Part 1: Meat
Chopped rendered bacon and or breakfast sausage are obvious choices for tucking inside eggs but frittatas can support a lot of different flavor profiles. Try sweet or hot Italian sausage with provolone and Pecorino, fresh chorizo and queso fresco, or dried sliced chorizo with shredded manchego. Figure about 8 ounces of meat for a standard size frittata. Remove any casings and don’t pour off those drippings. If you want crispy bits, reserve some of the cooked meat and sprinkle on top before the final broil.
Additions Part 2: Vegetables
But meat is not essential. In fact, the frittata is a vegetarian dream dinner. Full of protein and an excellent way to use up the rest of those greens, roasted potatoes, carrots, caramelized onions, borderline too-ripe tomatoes, excess fresh herbs, etc. Almost the same rules apply for adding vegetables to frittatas as they do for scrambled eggs—that is, generally you want to cook them first so they don’t water down your interior. That goes for mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, or yellow squash. You’ll obviously want to cook any roots or winter squashes before you add those, but don’t go to any extra trouble. Just toss any leftovers in if you’ve got ‘em). Greens like spinach, chard, kale, and the like I used to pre-wilt in the skillet before adding the eggs. But one lazy day I just threw a big handful of Bloomsdale spinach in there and poured the eggs on top. What came out of the oven was a puffed golden beauty in a frilly green skirt. The greens had softened just enough but held their shape for an extra-pretty presentation.
So, you’ve got a lot of options. But don’t worry, I made you a formula with some ideas to get you started. Use it as a road map to frittata greatness. But remember, ultimately you won’t rely on this. Soon, only your creativity and experience will guide you.
Illustration by Lauren Kolm
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk eggs, dairy and ⅔ of cheese in a medium bowl until evenly combined; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil (or melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter) in a 10– to 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat, if using, and cook until browned and crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon. To any skillet drippings, add onions and cook, stirring until softened, 5 to 7 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add vegetables and stir to combine.
Add egg mixture to skillet and quickly stir to combine. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top and transfer skillet to the oven. Bake until frittata is puffed and almost set (it should still wiggle a little).
Increase heat to broil. Broil frittata until golden in spots and just set, 1 to 2 minutes (but keep an eye on it as broilers vary greatly). Let cool 5 minutes before slicing or scooping and serving.