The word “frittata,” which derives from the Italian verb “friggere,” or “to fry,” connotes the simplicity and pleasures of cucina povera—the “humble cuisine” that most of us innately love. Egg is the main ingredient. With its high protein and mineral content, easy availability and low cost, eggs are an essential part of the diet almost everywhere in the world. From China and Southeast Asia to India and Iran, up to the Maghreb, Spain, France, and Italy some kind of frittata-like dish is prepared. Surprisingly, in Italy, it’s rare to find a restaurant that offers frittata on its menu; it’s the quintessential home food.
Naturally, the tastiest frittate are made with the best eggs—farm fresh with luscious, orange yolks. But, of course, eggs are just the beginning; the most distinctive aspect of the Italian frittata compared to similar preparations is the creative and imaginative use of all kinds of ingredients. People sometimes wonder what the difference is between a frittata and an omelette. The main distinction is that the ingredients of an omelette are gently placed into the beaten eggs as they are cooking in the pan. In a frittata, the eggs and ingredients are mixed together, then cooked more slowly. Also, the final shapes are different; an omelette is usually semi-circular, where a frittata is round and usually thicker. There’s an Italian expression: “hai fatto una frittata,”which loosely translated means: you’ve made quite a mess—or a sequence of mistakes.
That expression no doubt comes from the fact that it often happens that a frittata is made on the spur of the moment: a last-minute decision made when you don’t have the time to go grocery shopping and the refrigerator seems bare. But all those odds and ends and leftovers in your fridge can make for a great frittata. In fact, in Italy, sometimes before serving lunch or dinner, a small portion of the meal is purposely put aside for a frittata the next day.
In Italy, mothers—and fathers!—make delicious frittate with leftover pasta(with or without sauce or seasoning). Also, a frittata is a perfect way to entice children into eating vegetables; it can often be a complete meal in itself. It can be tastier hours later, eaten at room temperature, or enjoyed the next day, with a side of arugula. For a quick lunch, frittata can be served along with sautéed greens, salami or various local cheeses.
When stored in the fridge, be sure to put your frittata in an airtight plastic container, as water and humidity can ruin the taste. Remember: any greens or veggies you add into the frittata should first be sautéed, in order to eliminate most of their water. As for whether to use butter or extra-virgin olive oil—besides just personal preference, you should also consider which of those tastes marries best with the other ingredients you’re using in the dish.