I have read that Italian breakfasts are very light, usually consisting of coffee (espresso) or cappuccino and some kind of pastry or bread. Biscotti are also favorites for an Italian breakfast. Biscotti are a, not too sweet cookie, that is baked, cut, then baked again to form slices of hard biscuits that are often dunked in coffee. Egg dishes, such as frittatas, are usually eaten at lunch or dinner, never for breakfast.
I can remember going to my grandparents’ home around breakfast time and my grandfather would be having a cup of coffee and eating the heel end from a loaf of Italian bread. This was pretty much his usual breakfast. I am not sure when Italian-Americans began eating specialty pastries from a bakery, but I can remember Italian bakeries were numerous where I grew up in New Jersey. I think the tradition of going to the Italian bakery came about when folks who had just come from church services wanted a special breakfast on Sunday. I can remember long lines at the bakery counter, didn’t like standing there, but liked those pastries. My grandfather even got into the habit and would bring us pastries when he visited us on Sundays. He continued the tradition when my children were little and brought us pastries up until the time that he died. Some of those delicious pastries (just wanted to make you drool) are pictured below. Of course you know they are not a healthy choice.
I recall that most of my breakfasts growing up were the usual cereal and scrambled eggs. Very American. My mother, however, often made traditional Italian style egg dishes, such as potatoes and eggs, or peppers and eggs or spinach frittata and I will share those recipes with you. My children weren’t so fond of fritattas when they were growing up, but they like them now as adults, so I like to make frittatas for breakfast when they visit.
A frittata is a healthy and economical dish that you can eat for any meal of the day. It is a dish similar to a French quiche, an American omelette, or a Spanish tortilla. Frittatas generally consist of eggs, vegetables, cheese, and herbs.
In my house, the contents of a frittata usually consist of whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator that day. Italians are frugal and know how to use leftovers creatively.
You will want to pick items that have a natural affinity for each other. Think of things that you might find on a plate together anyway, or on a pizza and cheese is a key ingredient in any frittata. Making this dish is very simple as long as you have an ovenproof skillet. Sauté whatever veggies you are putting into the dish and heat through any cooked meat leftovers.
Here are some ideas:
- 1 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sautéed until soft, 2 diced plum tomatoes and 4 ounces of diced or shredded Fontina.
- A bag of cleaned spinach cooked in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/4 pound sliced Prosciutto, some grated Parmesan cheese and some shredded Mozzarella cheese
- I prefer to use reduced fat shredded cheeses from Kraft or Sargento and substitute half of the eggs with egg substitute to save on calories.
General techniques include
- Turn on the broiler. Place a non-stick skillet with an oven safe handle on the stove over medium heat.
- Heat the pan and add 1 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot add the frittata vegetables, stirring until warm, and then pour the eggs beaten with the egg substitute over the vegetables.
- Slowly cook the frittata until the edges start to firm up. When the frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way through, scatter the top with shredded cheese and move it to the heated broiler.
- Set the frittata about 6-inches below the broiler.
- When it is just golden brown and puffed up, remove the skillet to your stove top.
- BE SURE TO PROTECT THE HOT HANDLE WITH A HOT PAD SO YOU DO NOT BURN YOUR HANDS!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
- 5 eggs and 1 1/4 cups egg substitute
- 8 ounces chopped raw spinach (or 1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat oil in a 10 or 12 inch skillet with a heat-resistant handle over medium heat. Saute onion in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese. Whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions and spinach. Return to low heat and cook 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden brown and cut into wedges.
Some Traditional Italian Style Egg Dishes
Peppers and Eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute (such as, Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden.
Add the peppers, cook 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
Cover skillet and cook 5 more minutes until they are tender.
Mix the eggs, oregano, salt and pepper together and por over the peppers in the skillet.
Stir fry the eggs and peppers to allow the uncooked portions to reach the bottom of the skillet.
Remove from heat when the eggs are done to your liking.
Potatoes and Eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Heat the oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the potatoes until tender and golden brown. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and onions. Stir fry the mixture turning the ingredients with a spatula over and under until the eggs look cooked to your liking.
Completing the Breakfast Menu
The best accompaniments to the egg dishes featured here are bread and fruit, such as, melon or berries. Certainly a loaf of Italian bread would be good, but I like to serve Focaccia.
Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion, cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough but is usually baked in a deep dish pan. The bread bakes up thicker than pizza and can be used for sandwiches.
In Ancient Rome, foccacia, was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house. As the tradition spread, the diverse regions and the different local ingredients resulted in a large variety of breads. The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine, a coastal region of north-western Italy. In America, it is referred to as focaccia bread.
Here is a recipe I have adapted from King Arthur.
This bread is just about the easiest home-baked bread recipe that I have found because it can be made without kneading and is ready in under 2 hours.
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
- 1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- Italian seasoning or other herbs of choice
- Grated parmesan cheese
Drizzle the bottom of a 9″x 13″ pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil.
Combine all of the ingredients and beat at high-speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds.
Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan. If you spray a spatula (or your fingers) with cooking spray, the dough will be easier to smooth out.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger. Drizzle it lightly 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated parmesan cheese.
Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.