Why The Humble Frittata Is Your Weeknight Cooking Hero

Plus, 9 easy frittata recipes to help you use up those leftovers.

Frittatas were one of the first things I tried to make when I started cooking for myself, in part because the name sounded fancier than other teen staples like Kraft Dinner or grilled cheese. And because for so little effort, they seemed fancier, too: just throw some leftovers or cut vegetables into a pan, pour a few beaten eggs overtop, let it cook, and you have something that more closely resembles a meal than a snack that comes out of a box.

Valuing a dish, or the idea of one, for aesthetics alone pretty much guaranteed that the first ones I made were awful. I never thought to cook the vegetables beforehand—or better yet, use cooked leftovers from the night before—or to pop the pan in the oven. I never mixed the eggs with cheese, milk, or cream. Those first few frittatas turned out as spongy egg pancakes with wet, crunchy lumps of undercooked vegetables settled at the bottom; I hated them so much I swore off frittatas till my late twenties. For the rest of ninth grade I just popped a frozen lasagna in the oven when I got home from school.

It turns out, so many of the things I got wrong about frittatas back then were so simple to fix—and if you’re cooking for under a time crunch, the dish can be a godsend. Frittatas make great use of leftovers, cook up in 15 minutes and are mealtime-agnostic: they don’t feel out of place at breakfast, lunch, dinner—or any snack time in between. Plus, if you have leftovers, frittatas reheat quite well, making them a double leftover combo. Here’s what you need to know about making a great frittata.

Ratios matter

While you can make a frittata in anything that’s oven-safe—skillet, cast-iron pan, frying pan, even a casserole dish with a lid—its size and depth will determine how many eggs you need, or the other way around. Using fewer eggs for a wider pan means a shallower frittata, which means a lower cooking time or a dried-out pancake. Too many, and you’ll end up with a dense brick. A standard 12-inch skillet takes about 12 eggs; an eight-inch, about six.

This also applies to the eggs-and-dairy ratio. Most recipes call for half a cup of dairy for every dozen eggs. Feel free to use cream, yogurt, whole milk, 2 percent, even evaporated milk—but the higher fat content, the better.

Leftovers? Fresh veggies? Make sure they’re fully cooked

With the exception of maybe fresh herbs, cheese, and some pre-cooked meats, most frittata fillings should be cooked through so that they have a nice texture when the dish is done—and more importantly, so that they don’t release extra water into the egg mixture while cooking.

That said, there are so many types of pre-cooked leftovers are perfect for frittatas beyond potatoes and grilled vegetables. Leftover pasta? Throw the noodles in there. Cooked rice? Ditto. Cooked lentils, grains, beans (we know you’ve been cooking with them), leftover stew, the dregs of frozen vegetables that didn’t quite make it out of the bag: use them all.

Oven, or stovetop?

Some cooking methods have you cooking entirely on stovetop, flipping the frittata once the eggs are mostly cooked to crisp up both sides; others are an entirely oven-baked scenario. Both work fine, but my favourite is the traditional combination of the two, cooking the frittata partway on the stove until the edges have thickened, then popping it in the oven. In all honesty, the best method here is what works best for you, whether the idea of preheating an oven feels like a step too far on a difficult evening or flipping an egg dish in a massive pan sounds like a nightmare.

Better to err on the side of undercooking

Whether you’re cooking the frittata by stovetop or oven, take it off the heat as soon as it seems set. If the pan you’re using holds heat well the eggs will continue to cook—and you can always put it back on the stove if you’ve really undershot it. The same can’t be said for an overcooked one.

Here are 9 frittata recipes to try for quarantine cooking (and beyond):

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