Remembering my Italian grandpa through food, and his Papa’s Italian Potato and Pepper Frittata

In time for Father’s Day, we reflect on family cooking traditions.
Published June 4

The gladiolas are still fresh in my mind, as my grandpa stood among them in his garden in New York. He was happy digging in the dirt, creating beautiful flowers and vegetables. It was his personal sanctuary.

An immigrant from Bari, Italy, Grandpa arrived at Ellis Island as a boy more than 100 years ago. He lived with a family acquaintance until he met my grandmother, Laura, and then married.

He was a tailor by trade and made wool suits and coats that could last forever. But he also loved food. Grandpa grew tomatoes, basil and figs. He grew grapes that he crushed into very strong wine for the table. The aroma of cooking and the sweet scents from the garden will forever remain in my memory.

His house, and especially the kitchen, was a busy place with all the family converging and chattering around the big table. He had a small stove in the back of his porch where he often cooked his favorite foods. He answered to no one in this private kitchen. I remember a huge tin of olive oil next to his stove, always ready to prepare something delicious.

One of Grandpa’s best creations was an Italian potato cake. This is what I call a frittata, but his huge version was cooked in a heavy skillet on top of the stove, so we called it a “cake.”

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The food memories of my childhood are always present. I am inspired by those happy times and re-create recipes from tidbits of handwritten recipe cards and fragments of the memories we all shared at our kitchen table.

My smaller version of Papa’s frittata is made in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and is easier to turn. I use a generous amount of fresh herbs and red pepper, which gives just the right sweetness.

When turning the “cake,” use oven mitts so you don’t burn your wrists with any oil that may escape from the skillet. You will know it’s time to turn the “cake” over when steam starts coming from the middle and the edges start to separate from the sides of the pan.

My way of remembering New York is through my passion for food and the recipes of my childhood years. I can still remember Grandpa sitting at the table each night and asking in Italian, “What are we going to eat tomorrow?”

Serve this frittata warm or at room temperature. Cold from the refrigerator, a slice of frittata makes a delicious sandwich topped with Genoa salami and a slice of fresh ripe tomato. You can also add sausage or bacon to the frittata, if you like.

Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. She has won and placed in contests across America. This column features recipes that have been entered in those contests and updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at

Papa’s Italian Potato and Pepper Frittata

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

8 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-inch cubes, about 8 cups

1 large green pepper, seeded, cut into ½-inch cubes, about 1 ½ cups

1 large red pepper, seeded, cut into ½-inch cubes, about 1 ½ cups

1 large sweet onion, peeled, cut in half and then sliced ¼ inch thick, about 3 cups

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper

½ cup fresh basil, sliced thin

¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, minced

8 large eggs, vigorously beaten

¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for the table

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet on medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the potatoes, green and red peppers, onions and salt and pepper. Turn every few minutes to brown everything evenly. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

When the vegetables are nicely browned and soft, add the basil and parsley. Give all the ingredients a few turns until the herbs are evenly mixed in.

Lower the heat to medium and slowly pour the beaten eggs evenly around the vegetables in a circular motion. Push the vegetables around so the eggs incorporate evenly and reach the edges. Use a spatula to even the edges, to make sure they are nice and round. Continue cooking until the edges and middle of the frittata are cooked enough to hold together. Steam will escape from the middle when ready to turn.

Take the skillet off the burner and place a 12-inch dinner plate over the frittata. With oven mitts on both hands, invert the frittata in the skillet onto the platter with one hand on the skillet handle and one hand on the top of the plate. The bottom of the frittata will be the top, so make sure it is browned just right.

Slide the frittata back into the skillet, but this time the part that was previously on the bottom should be on the top.

Push the skillet back onto the burner, adding a bit more olive oil if the skillet is too dry, and lightly brown the bottom of the frittata. Shake the skillet a few times to get a nice edge on the frittata. Invert the finished frittata onto a large serving platter and top with grated cheese. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski