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Oven-baked frittata
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Oven-baked frittata

As health and diet trends come and go, I've been delighted to see the rehabilitation of the egg. Long hailed as one of the healthiest of foods, eggs went through a period of culinary purgatory for a while, banished from the daily table (at least by the food-wary) because they're loaded with cholesterol.

But eggs are back, now recognized in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Food Guide Pyramid" as one of the many animal-based foods (a category that also contains milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and nuts) that make healthy fare when served in moderation.

Better still, eggs aren't just for breakfast any more. Egg-based dishes make an excellent dinner course, fleshed out (pardon the pun) with meat, poultry or seafood, or meatless with vegetables or cheese, or even standing alone. One of the tastiest dishes I ever had in France was an "omelette nature," a perfect, plain omelet made with nothing more than eggs, butter and maybe just a whiff of garlic, pepper and salt.

Just about all the Mediterranean countries offer similar-only-different egg dishes: The classic French omelet is mirrored in Italy by the frittata and in Spain by the tortilla, each with its own local character and all delicious.

These are usually stovetop dishes, cooked quickly (the omelet) or slowly (the tortilla and the frittata), served alone or filled with an almost infinite variety of goodies that may range from cheese to onions to shrimp and beyond.

The other day, I read about an interesting variation: In Northeastern Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia, wrote cookbook author Fred Plotkin, a rustic variation of the frittata is made not on top of the stove but in the oven, where it bakes without needing much attention, freeing the cook to take care of other things. That's my kind of cookery, and it inspired a quick dinner.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 links mild Italian sausage (optional)
Red onion, enough to make 1/4 cup chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons half-and-half or milk
2 tablespoons water


1. Preheat oven to 300F.

2. (Skip this step if you want a meatless dish.) Slice the sausages into rounds and cook them in a skillet over medium heat until they're cooked through and browned. Drain the sausage and set it aside, leaving the browned bits and a small amount of the cooked-off fat in the skillet.

3. Put the chopped onions and garlic in the skillet and cook over medium-low heat until they're translucent and starting to brown. (If you skipped the sausage step, cook the onions and garlic in a bit of butter or olive oil.)

4. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the half-and-half or milk and the water, and beat them lightly with a fork, adding salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cheese. Finally, stir in the cooked onions and garlic. Mix well, and pour into a lightly buttered, 8-inch, round Pyrex oven-proof dish.

5. As the eggs cook, they'll start to set from the bottom. When they appear to be about half done, add the cooked sausage, if you're using it, and return to the oven to finish. It should take about 15 to 20 minutes total, with the egg at the center congealing last. It will start to puff up a little just as it finishes; keep an eye on it in the last few minutes and take care not to overcook, as the eggs will lose their tenderness. Serve hot, or let it cool for a few minutes if you prefer.

VARIATIONS: As mentioned, the sausage is optional. You can leave it out for a meatless dish, or substitute bacon, or just about any kind of cooked meat, poultry or seafood. Or cooked vegetables. Other cheeses may be substituted for the Parmigiano: Friulian Montasio, if you can get it, or Romano, or Cheddar or Swiss-type cheeses; even blue cheese. As with omelets, only your imagination sets the limit.

WINE MATCH: Some experts say egg dishes don't work well with wine, but I've never found this a problem. A crisp but fruity white works perfectly (we matched it with the modest but pleasant Domaine de Pouy 2001 Vin de Pays des Cotes des Gascogne). Champagne would work. So would a fruity red ... maybe a Beaujolais.

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Thursday, Jan. 2, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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