The last time I was in Italy I hooked up with my friend Luca and the crew from his video company, HB Productions. We spent days together shopping and shooting episodes of me cooking in my apartment near the Spanish Steps.
Here’s the first of those HB Production episodes just in time as early spring vegetables hit the farmers market.
I shopped every day in Campo dei Fiori, the huge open air market in the historical center of Rome. I was lucky to meet Alessandro who had a produce stand there. He was my guide to the spring vegetables he had to offer.
This day he had wild chicory, cicoria, he foraged early that morning in the hills near his home outside of Rome. He sold me the chicory with a condition. “Cook it with olive oil and lots of garlic, that’s all.” “And chili pepper,” I said. Alessandro agreed and added “but no lemon, no lemon.” Boy, these Italians are strict but that was my plan anyway.
What a wonderful Slow Food moment, scoring locally foraged cicoria to cook in my Rome apartment a few blocks away from the market! Watch me use a versatile, simple method to respectfully coax maximum flavor from this humble wild green. Here in the U.S. curly endive is the closest to the wild chicory I cooked in Rome.
You may have seen some of the Rome footage in this Hungry Village production. Get a peek of Luca and his aunt Giulia, the best cook in the family, who joined me in the kitchen for a couple of episodes.
I hope to have the other Rome episodes ready to post soon. Stay tuned but in the meantime here’s my saltimbocca recipe.
So You Want To Be An American? is the music in the episode. I love the tune. Here’s hip Neapolitan crooner Renato Carosone’s 1958 rendition of his Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.
Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.
But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.
3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.
We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.
Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.
Antipasto (before the meal)
The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.
And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.
Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.
Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.
This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.
A Finishing Touch
Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.
A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal
A Thanksgiving dinner that you can cook in under 2 hours. You won't believe the complex flavor of the moist tender breast and the mellow spinach and salty prosciutto stuffing.
1 4 Pound turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
2 pounds fresh spinach
½ onion, finely diced
½ cup grated parmigiano
6 slices prosciutto
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
3 lemon slices
4 leaves fresh sage
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water or broth
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Over medium heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pot.
When the oil is hot saute the onions until they are translucent and tender.
Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot and raise the heat to medium-high.
Add as much of the spinach as you can to the pot and turn it to mix it with the onions and to help it all wilt. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
Add more spinach until all of it is wilted.
Put the spinach in a bowl and mix in the grated parmigiano and set the spinach aside to cool.
Butterfly the breast and lay flat open, pounding with a meat mallet to create even thickness throughout. (Save time. Ask your butcher to butterfly the breast for you.)
Spread the spinach mixture across the breast, leaving a 1½ inch border all around.
Put the prosciutto slices in a single layer over the spinach.
Beginning at one end, firmly roll up the turkey breast and use 4 equally spaced kitchen lengths of kitchen twine to secure the roast well.
In a casserole lay out the parsley, sage and lemon slices to form a bed for the roast.
Rub a tablespoon of olive oil well all over.
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper evenly over the roast.
Pour in the white wine, water (or broth) into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle olive oil over the liquid.
Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The temperature will rise to 160 degrees as it rests. (I'm using an off-the-grid organic turkey but if your roasting a supermarket turkey you may want to leave it in the oven longer, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.)
Baste the roast with the pan juices several times during roasting. (Add more wine and water to maintain about an inch of liquid in the casserole.
Remove the breast roll from the pan and loosely cover with foil.
Pour the pan juices through a strainer into a pan. Skim off excess oil.
Keep the pan gravy over very low heat to keep it warm.
After the roast has rested for about 20 minutes, slice it thinly and arrange the spirals on a serving platter.
Pour the pan gravy over the slices. (If you have more gravy, serve it at the table.)
I love this ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin as an end to a fall meal. It’s a nice change from the heavier New York cheesecake.
Pumpkin ricotta cheesecake is easy to make. It doesn’t have a pastry crust so you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes and out in 90.
I’m not a purist so I don’t care if the cheesecake cracks on top. Looks rustic, right? Ask Martha Stewart if you want to get rid of the cracks.
Add a dollop of whipped cream and you have a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday meal.
Creamy, airy, rich pumpkin flavor with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg lingering in the background. The nutty crust that forms around the edge is my favorite bite. Make this one of your fall favorites.
The cheesecake is even better if you make it the day before so it has a chance to set-up nicely in the refrigerator. One less thing to worry about on the big day. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.
Thanksgiving is coming. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Thursday’s episode, a quick spinach & prosciutto stuffed boneless turkey breast.
This is part one of a 2 part Thanksgiving special. Stay tuned for part two next week.
Easy and delicious, mashed potatoes flavored with mellow roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil, pairs well with meat, fish or poultry.
My Mom didn’t call them mashed potatoes, she called them “smashed” potatoes and I still do. I like chunks of potato for that toothsome feel. But I like a smoother or whipped version of mashed potatoes too.
Make your mashed potatoes anyway you like them. Mash them more, whip them with a whisk or a hand beater, or put the hot potatoes through a ricer if you want a smoother or whipped consistency, then add the roasted garlic and olive oil.
Any way you make them just get them to your guests while they’re still piping hot. .
For Thanksgiving this year I’m serving with my smashed potatoes with a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with sauteed spinach and prosciutto that’s in and out of the oven in less than 90 minutes.
It’s a complete easy and quick dinner with protein, veggies and carbohydrates all on the plate.
The Italian Homemade Company opened in North Beach on Columbus between Filbert & Greenwich a few days ago. I visited this morning for the first time. It was like stopping by someone’s kitchen in northern Italy.
I’m making a light pasta cream sauce with zucchini blossoms and was looking for fresh pasta. I bought some of Homemade’s fresh tagliatelle. But I couldn’t resist this morning’s crop of tiny spinach and ricotta ravioli for my delicate sauce.
Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, the gracious owners, are settling into their new space. Alice makes fresh pasta every day. She hails from Rimini on the northern Italian Adriatic coast where they make beautiful fresh pasta. Mattia, is from the Marche region.
Another owner, Carlo Ciccardi, was jet-lagged after arriving a few hours ago from a trip back home near the beautiful beach town between Naples and Rome, Sperlonga.
Stop in soon for fresh pasta, salumi, cheeses and imported products. Italian Homemade will make several fresh pasta choices each day along with other fresh dishes to take away.
Today Alice made a lasagna with bechamel and ragu. She suggested a baked in-house piadina (flat bread) sandwich with your choice of stuffed baked tomato or pepper inside. Add some prosciutto and mozzarella and you have a fresh street-food meal to eat at the long communal table or to take away to enjoy in Washington Square, just a block away.
Benvenuti e buona fortuna! A warm welcome and best wishes to our new neighbors. Thank you for bringing another slice of Italia to North Beach.
My lunch turned out beautifully.
The Italian Homemade Company spinach and ricotta ravioli are delicate but toothsome. The tasty little ravioli are bathed in the shallot-flavored cream sauce accented by the sweetness of the zucchini blossoms and the nuttiness of the parmigiano. Even with just a few ingredients, these ravioli explode with complex flavor in every bite.Here’s the recipe for the squash blossom cream sauce. It works well with delicate stuffed pasta or flat fresh or dried pasta like fettucine or tagliatelle.
A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.
I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.
But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.
If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.
This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.
Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.
These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.
Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.
Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.
The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.
Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.
Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.
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Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.
Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.
The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.
The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.
Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.
Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.
You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
Roughly chop the greens.
Chop the onion.
Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
Brush the pastry all over with oil.
Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.
I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.
For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.
My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.
The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.
I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.
Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.
Antipasti (before the meal)
Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.
The hardest part of this dish is finding baby lamb. I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, so I got mine at Golden Gate Meat Company in the Ferry Building. If you can’t get the breast use chops or even a leg of lamb. Any cut works with this recipe.
The breast riblets are crispy and fall off the bone tender. The chops have a golden brown crust and delicate flavor and can be cooked to your preferred doneness.
Keep an eye out for my Easter Recipe Roundup. You’ll see the other 3 courses I’m making for my Easter dinner and recipes for dozens of my favorites for you to make your own 4-course Easter dinner.
Place the potatoes in a pot of well-salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until just knife tender. Take the potatoes out of the water and set aside.
When cool enough to handle peel the potatoes, cut each in half and then in quarters.
Place the potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Coat the potatoes well all over.
Put the potatoes in the oven on the upper rack. Roast until the potatoes, turning them once until they are crispy and very light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the potatoes from oven and set aside.
Finely chop 2 garlic cloves, the leaves of 2 rosemary branches and the anchovy. Put the mixture in a bowl. Add the vinegar and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Mix well to form a paste and set aside.
Cut the breast into 4 similar size pieces. Thoroughly season each piece on both sides with salt and pepper. (Or substitute the lamb chops.)
Put a cast iron pan or a skillet large enough to hold the lamb over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan.
Smash 2 garlic cloves and 2 rosemary branches to the pan. Cook in the hot olive oil for a minute or two to infuse the oil with their flavor. Discard the garlic and rosemary.
Put the lamb in the pan and cook to form a golden crust on both sides. Put the lamb in a baking dish.
Add the white wine to the hot pan. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom and let the wine simmer for a minute to burn off the alcohol.
Pour the wine into the baking dish.
Put the baking dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast the lamb until it is golden brown, about 90 minutes. (If using chops roast until they reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees.)
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and cover the lamb on both sides with the rosemary paste. Add the potatoes to the pan.
Return the baking dish and continue roasting until the lamb is fork tender. (If using chops until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.)
Remove the lamb and potatoes to a serving platter. Skim off any excess fat from the pan juices and pour them over the lamb.
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It’s ridiculous how a few quality ingredients can make such a sumptuous pasta dish. When in Rome cacio e pepe is one of two pasta dishes that I order at one of my favorite restaurants as soon as I arrive.
If you’re really hungry and want something simple to eat this no-cook sauce is for you. Boil well-salted water, cook the spaghetti and you’re almost done.
When the spaghetti is al dente, fish it out of the water and put it in a big bowl. Pour a cup of hot pasta water over the spaghetti, stir in the grated pecorino & freshly ground black pepper, toss and your ready to eat.
The silky zesty pecorino sauce clings to every strand of spaghetti and the black pepper explodes in your mouth. I couldn’t stop eating this one.
Be sure to buy the best spaghetti from Italy that you can. I prefer pasta from a small producer in and around Naples. This pasta could cost you 4 or 5 dollars but it’s worth every penny. Their durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die has a deep nutty wheat flavor and the rough surface holds sauce well. In a pinch I use De Cecco.
Buy a hunk of pecorino romano from Italy and grate just before using to maximize its taste. Buy quality black peppercorns and coarsely grind or crush them so that you fully enjoy their robust flavor and texture.
Oh, and that other pasta dish I can’t wait to eat when I get to Roma, spaghetti carbonara. Let me know if you want me to make that one in a future episode. Just leave a comment.
I often make a spaghetti pie when I have cacio e pepe left over. Just add beaten eggs, mix and bake it until the spaghetti strands on top are golden and nutty. It’s an easy way of getting a second day of enjoyment out of this tasty dish. You can make a spaghetti pie too.
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Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce
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I love this time of year when the first of the early spring vegetables start to hit the market. Pencil-thin asparagus, tiny peas, and tender fava beans are among my favorites, so I just had to make pasta primavera with these spring farmers’ market beauties.
But the nice thing about pasta primavera is that it’s versatile enough to work well with all kinds of produce. Asparagus not looking so good? Use artichokes instead! Are those gorgeous ramps on sale this week? Use those! Just pick whatever’s fresh and delicious in your market and you can’t go wrong.
This dish is inspired by the original Spaghetti alla Primavera from Sirio Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque restaurant in New York City–it’s a real Italian-American classic. I’ve lightened the dish up by using no butter and less cream, and this keeps the spring vegetables in sharp focus. Instead, pasta water creates a flavorful broth as the base of the sauce and bow tie pasta instead of spaghetti guarantees you get some veggies with every bite.
I prefer the more robust ricotta salata flavor instead of parmigiano as a finishing note, but different strokes, right? And extra virgin olive oil does put some fat back into this really healthy, full-flavored taste of springtime, I’ll give you that, but come on, a little ain’t gonna kill ya.
I made farfalle alla primavera a few years ago at my cooking demonstration and tasting at The Villages in San Jose. I was cooking for 50 Italian-Americans and wannabes and I needed a boat-load of vegetables, so while setting up for the show I enlisted a dozen of my students to shell the peas and fava beans and cut the asparagus. When all the work was done, one of my prep helpers said “Next time use frozen!” Well, of course you can, but it won’t be as good as using fresh from the farmer’s market–the extra work means extra flavor and who don’t want that?
The full flavor of the spring vegetables rule this simple, uncluttered pasta dish that is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta. After you shell the peas and fava that is. Just make sure none of your helpers throw them pea pods at ya.
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I made this asparagus frittata last spring while in Rome. Allesandro, my friend and produce vendor in Campo de Fiori, the huge open air produce market in the historical center of Rome, showed me wild asparagus he had foraged the night before. It took him all night to collect 2 kilos.
That’s Allesandro in video episode showing me those skinny wild asparagus that quickly went into a frittata for my mates back in our apartment near Piazza di Spagna.
I found some really thin asparagus at the farmers market. They reminded me of the frittata I made in Rome and I had to make it here in San Francisco.
I roasted the asparagus with olive oil and sea salt to intensify its bright flavor. This is a thinner frittata than I usually make because I want the egg mixture to just hold the asparagus together and let the concentrated springtime flavor shine.
Serve frittata as a part of your antipasti or as a light lunch or dinner with a salad and a hunk of crusty bread. When I’m not in the mood to cook frittata is my go to recipe. It’s ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Buon appetito!
Put the asparagus on a cooking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Toss the asparagus to cover them all with the oil.
Roast in the oven until the asparagus begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Turn them at least once.
Take the asparagus out of the oven and when cool cut them on the diagonal in 2-inch pieces. Set the asparagus aside.
Add the eggs to a large bowl and beat them well.
Add the asparagus, parsley, grated cheese, ½ teaspoon sea salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and mix all the ingredients well.
Put a 9-inch cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Swirl the olive oil so it coats the sides of the pan well to avoid the sides of the frittata from sticking.
When the oil starts to ripple the add the egg mixture to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
As the frittata begins to set stir the bottom of the frittata with a fork. With a spatula lightly pull the edge of frittata away from the side of the pan. Genly slide the spatula under the frittata. Be sure the frittata is loose and moves easily when you shake the pan.
Place a plate over the pan and flip the pan so the frittata ends up on the plate.
Slide the frittata back in the pan.
Finish cooking the frittata until it is solid.
(If you don’t want the flip the frittata, finish cooking it in a 375 degree oven until the top sets and browns.)
Slide the frittata onto a serving plate and serve immediately or at room temperature.