I was very surprised when one of my friends said that she had baked a zucchini frittata following a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. I opened my copy of the cookbook to see if Ottolenghi really had baked a frittata. Afterall he has Italian heritage! It is not called a frittata for nothing!(I am joking here – I really like and respect Ottolenghi – but all jokes aside, if I were to bake a mixture of zucchini and eggs, I would call it a Zucchini Bake.
Fritta, means fried (feminine) and fritto, as in Fritto Misto is fried (masculine) and misto means mixed. I would enjoy continuing with a lesson in Italian grammar, but this post is about frittata.
Recently I was contacted by Maria Liberati and invited to participate in an interview about Frittata, for a podcast. So there I was from Melbourne in lockdown chatting to Maria Liberati in Pennsylvania.
Maria asked me to speak about frittate (plural), she found of a post I had been invited to write by Janet Clarkson’s very popular blog called ‘The Old Foodie’. The post was called An Authentic Frittata (December 2008). I had forgotten that I had written it, but what I said then still stands.
Apart from discussing frittate in general and providing a Sicilian recipe for frittata I made a comment about Claudia Roden. She is one of my heros, but I disagreed with what she must have said at some stage:” Frittate are common throughout Italy but not Sicily and Sardinia’.
But just how popular are frittate anyway? When do we eat frittate? and could it be that frittate are such ordinary fare that they do not appear in cookery books very often?
In An Authentic Frittata, my first sentence is:
‘Every National Cuisine has certain rules and customs.’
Baking a frittata in Italy is not one of them.
But I can understand why frying a frittata is scary. This is a simple zucchini and cheese frittata. It is spring in Melbourne and we had some new season’s zucchini tossed quickly in a frypan with some extra virgin olive oil, a little parsley and garlic. I turned the leftovers and some grated pecorino cheese into a simple frittata.
Frittata is cooked on one side before being inverted onto a plate and then slid into the frypan again to cook on the other side. It is not that scary.
Pour the mixture of beaten eggs (a fork will do), zucchini, salt, pepper into hot oil. Use the spatula to press the frittata gently on top and lift the edges tilting the pan. This allows some of the runny egg to escape on the side to cook. when there is no more egg escaping you are ready to turn it over.
As Maria said in the interview, perhaps cooks could try this with a smaller pan. I think it is worth it.
When making frittata, using a round frypan makes sense, and not making it a huge frittata makes it more manageable.
Depending on the quantities of the other ingredients to be added to the frittata, I think about 8 eggs is the maximum.
Maria and I certainly agreed about how the cooking of Italy is very regional and how this may also apply to frittata. I grew up in Trieste (the north eastern Italian cooking of Friuli Venezia Giulia is similar to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) but I also have a Sicilian heritage.
Cuisine is localised , each region has prepared specialities based on their produce and cultural influences. Sicily was an important trade route in a strategic location in the Mediterranean and was settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Normans, French, Spaniards. Trieste was a very important port for much of that north eastern part of Italy that were part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. Surrounding countries that influenced the history and culture were Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany,and Croatia are not too far away.
Here are some basic differences between the making of frittate in the north and the south , some are no longer hard and fast rules, for example:
- butter or butter and oil is used for frying in the north, oil in the south,
- use of local produce in both – I have had quite a few frittate with ricotta in Sicily and made with fruit in the north, especially with apples,
- because left-overs are good ingredients for a frittata, you may see more vegetable based frittate in the south and more smallgoods based ones in the north, e.g. prosciutto, different cheeses,
- breadcrumbs are common additions to a frittata in the south (to soak up liquid from vegetables), a little flour and even a dash of milk is evident in many northern recipes,
- a little grated cheese is common in all frittate, Parmigiano in the north, pecorino or aged caciocavallo or ricotta salata in Sicily.
Like language, cooking evolves and when I cook, I do not invent or modify recipes without knowing what came first – what is the traditional recipe? What are the ingredients and how was it cooked? Experimentation can only come after respect for the ingredients and method of cooking that traditional recipe, and accepting that although the recipe may have been right for the time, there are changes that i would like to make. When I modify a recipe I ask myself if modifying it will improve it, is it a healthier way to cook it, quicker? And this applies to all traditional recipes.
A very simple example is how my mother always overcooked her vegetables, but she found my sautéed vegetables very undercooked. She either used onions or garlic, never the two together, meat and fish in the same recipe? Never.
Using Warrigal Greens (Australian bush tucker, like English spinach). Do not even think about that, I am definitely breaking the rules. These are growing on my balcony.
I am looking forward to using other spring produce to make frittate , especially artichokes, spring peas/snow peas, zucchini and zucchini flowers.
Maria and I talked amicably about many things, and there were many details that I had intended to say, but we ran out of time.
Thank you Maria for giving me this opportunity.
Below is a frittata I cooked with wild asparagus.
Recipes on my blog for making Frittata:
ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)
WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)
BOOK SIGNING OF SICILIAN SEAFOOD COOKING AT READINGS (and Fennel Frittata)
FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA
The recipe I provided in this post is a version of Giuseppe Coria’s but variations of this same recipe are in a couple of Sicilian cookbooks written in Italian. I do wonder if that recipe is still made now.
Podcast: A Sicilian Frittata Story
This week Maria discusses the power of food to take us to new places – this time, to Sicily – where we’ll enjoy a simple frittata. Joining her today is Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, a passionate food writer, blogger and recipe developer from Sicily.
To hear this podcast, click HERE