“I’m being tortured upstairs,” my husband, Michael, said as he came into the kitchen. “It smells so good, I had to come down.”
I taunt my husband, and others, regularly with the aromas from my kitchen. Guests have told me they can smell dinner from outside. I congratulate myself, knowing full well the witchcraft used to achieve this. Aroma is one of the most powerful senses used to evaluate food. A positive driveway report means I have already piqued their interest. Guests typically enter the kitchen and scan the counters for a visual confirmation of the wafting culprit.
I am the matriarch of my family, and a chef with a professional kitchen, so I am the most equipped to entertain. Today, I’m not prepping for a party or doing anything special. I’m just making an egg frittata, which I do weekly. But Michael doesn’t care. The familiar smells lure him down the stairs anyway.
Admittedly, a vegetable frittata isn’t a particularly exciting or exotic dish, but it’s a safe, convenient, steady item to have around. And this time of year, frittatas are a go-to dish to fill in the gaps between big celebratory meals. Plus, when you have guests over for multiple days, you need to feed them multiple meals.
A frittata requires no special ingredients like fattened foie gras, Japanese Waygu or Russian Osetra caviar, just everyday vegetables, eggs and cheese. Regardless of its seemingly bland profile, I have spent years perfecting my recipe, which is a favorite among clients, friends and family.
This frittata is beautiful, packed with vegetables, and golden. Over time, I have deduced that it takes exactly six minutes under a broiler and another 10 minutes inside the oven for the frittata to achieve this color. At that point, I pull it out, inflated and sizzling with outlines of red, yellow, orange, green and purple vegetables peeking through.
The game changer in this recipe is what I do to the vegetables before I starting cooking the egg mixture.
I rely on a rainbow of colorful, perfectly roasted vegetables. The chore of roasting them is what pulls Michael into the kitchen on this day. Roasting vegetables each week takes time, but pays off tenfold. There are no limits to their versatility once cooked. I keep them on hand for omelets, sandwiches, scrambles, fajitas or flatbreads.
I begin by collecting the vegetables, sheet trays and parchment paper, and crank up two ovens to 400 degrees. Thanks to my culinary school training, I can break down the vegetables at record speed. I use a sharp knife to effortlessly cut even, ¼-inch slices of tomato, zucchini, squash, red onion and bell peppers.
I spread the vegetables out on individual baking trays with a little oil, salt and pepper and place them in the oven. I stay close by and perform a well-rehearsed dance of turning and rotating the trays between oven shelves.
The oven’s high heat dehydrates the veggies, softens them and pierces tiny holes in their skins. The holes are small enough to release water, but not big enough for their sugars to escape, which increases their sweetness. What Michael has detected from upstairs is the browning of those remaining sugars. Roasting turns vegetables into sweeter, tender, more concentrated versions of themselves.
Frittatas have become an important staple in our house. They offer a great deal of convenience as a breakfast on early mornings. They reheat quickly but are just as good cold or at room temperature. Like the iconic 2015 Florida Orange Juice Growers Association slogan, “It’s not just for breakfast anymore,” either.
A frittata doubles as a fabulous lunch, brunch or dinner with a salad or soup. I’ve used them to welcome kids home from college, to nurse my ill father, to delight friends and family on their birthdays. They are nutritious enough to feed to my high-performance athlete clients and nourish their pregnant wives.
Their flavor profile is variable, and can be changed by simply adding or omitting different vegetables, meats or cheeses. Sometimes I make a Southwest version with Mexican chorizo, peppers and onions, and another time Greek, with tomatoes, spinach, broccoli and feta.
Regardless of which style I choose, the underlying secret ingredients are the caramelized vegetables I put inside. Once they’re fully cooked, they are lined up together on a tray, even rows of dark red, green, yellow, orange and purple. This is my visual cue to move on to the egg batter.
Like a pastry chef, I use an offset spatula edge to cleanly crack a dozen large eggs into a bowl, shell-free. I remove six of the 12 yolks to cut down on excess saturated fat and keep it healthy. I add calcium with a cup of low-fat milk, which will also help the eggs rise higher in the oven. Courtesy of food chemistry class, I know that the moisture from the milk will vaporize and expand my frittata even more. I beat my batter into submission with my largest balloon whisk and aerate the eggs. The mixture then goes into a preheated nonstick skillet and is cooked slowly over a low-heat burner until the edges set.
I carefully pull from the different rows of color to artfully decorate my yellow egg canvas. Zucchini and squash are first, followed by red onions, multicolor bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach. Everything is covered lightly with shredded Parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, then placed under the broiler.
When the six-minute timer rings, I move the frittata into the convection oven to finish the job. When I pull it out of the oven, it is perfectly golden, peppered with color and puffed with pride.
Michael’s timing is impeccable, as usual. Every week, he somehow knows to enter the kitchen just as the frittatas are coming out of the oven and sliding into a glass pie dish. I remind myself that I only have myself to thank, as he waits patiently to secure a warm piece for himself.
Michelle Kobernick of Huntington Woods, Mich., is a classically trained chef who works as a consultant and private chef for athletes. She is a student in the online Food Writing and Photography program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Roasted Vegetable Frittata
For the frittata filling:
1 head broccoli, trimmed
4 to 6 cups baby spinach leaves
6 large ripe tomatoes
1 yellow squash
1 each yellow, red and orange bell pepper
1 red onion
4 ounces cooked sausage or bacon, optional
For the egg batter:
12 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of black pepper
¾ cup shredded or crumbled cheese, such as Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar or feta
To roast vegetables, heat oven to 400 degrees. Line four sheet trays with parchment paper.
Divide broccoli into florets. Place the broccoli and spinach in a large skillet with a few tablespoons of water and heat. Cover and steam until softened and a bright green color. Remove from skillet with slotted spoon. Cool and drain any excess water.
Cut the tomatoes into thin slices and spread evenly onto one of the lined trays. Place the tray in the oven while you process the other vegetables. (Before using tomato in frittata, drain off any excess moisture.)
Trim the ends of the zucchini and squash and halve lengthwise. Cut into thin, even slices, coat with a small amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place squash evenly on a parchment-lined tray. Cut bell peppers in half, seed and slice into ¼-inch pieces. Peel red onion and slice similarly. Position on lined trays in a single layer.
Place all trays in the oven and roast the vegetables until soft and beginning to brown, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through cooking. (If you have limited oven space, you may have to roast vegetables in two shifts.) Let cool while making the egg batter.
Crack the eggs into a stainless steel bowl and remove six of the yolks. (Save for another use if you’d like.) Add the milk, salt and pepper to the eggs, beating vigorously with a large whisk. Place the egg mixture into a warmed 10-inch, preferably nonstick, oven-safe skillet. Cook over low heat on the stove until eggs begin to set around the edges of the pan.
Once the frittata is mostly set, add desired combinations of the precooked vegetables and crumbled bacon or sausage if using, distributing them evenly around the entire surface of the frittata. Top with cheeses and place the skillet under a broiler for approximately 6 minutes. Remove frittata from the broiler and bake at 400 degrees for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the oven and slide the frittata immediately into a glass or ceramic pie dish to cool. Cut and serve.
Source: Michelle Kobernick
Frittata flavor variations
Greek: Tomato, broccoli, spinach, red onion and feta cheese.
Southwest: Chorizo, bell pepper, red onion, tomato, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.
Classic vegetable: Tomato, zucchini, squash, red onion, broccoli, spinach, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, Parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar.