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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Making Budget Foods and Recipes User-Friendly: A Quick Egg Supper -- Utterly Simple Frittata

Back to my weekend version of this blog -- basic frugal foods made easy. 

A lot of folks weren't raised learning basic frugal cooking skills. Instead, in their family homes of origin, a lot of foods that they consumed were what we'd recognize as convenience foods, such as boxed meal helpers. There's nothing at all wrong with that scenario. However, they now find themselves (through no fault of their own) on a very limited budget, unemployed or forced into early retirement due to this pandemic, struggling financially right now and looking for help so that they can help themselves. Enter Basic Frugal Foods Made Easy, my weekend version of this blog that goes back to the basics to help others make very delicious foods while sticking to a tight budget. Remember, once you learn a piece of information or a new skill, you own that information to use over and over again. 

Eggs make a quick & easy meal for a tiny budget

When thinking about the different categories of foods, high-protein foods are generally the most expensive. Even the least expensive meats and seafoods can top several dollars per pound. If you're looking for a complete protein at a budget price, eggs are a winner. 

A large egg contains about 6.3 grams of protein. And a pound of eggs contains about 50 grams of protein, roughly the same amount contained in 12 ounces of 73% lean ground beef. 

Determining the cost per pound for eggs

The USDA sorts eggs into sizes according to weight. A dozen large eggs should weigh approximately 24 ounces, or 8 large eggs should weigh about 1 pound. When large eggs are priced between $1 and $2 per dozen, the cost per pound is 66 cents to $1.33. 

To figure the cost per pound of eggs at your store, this is the USDA's estimate of eggs per pound based on egg size. Determine the cost per egg (based on your prices), then multiply by how many are in a pound.

  • Extra-large eggs -- 7 to a pound
  • Large eggs -- 8 to a pound
  • Medium eggs -- 9 to a pound
  • Small eggs -- 10 1/2 to a pound

The Italian frittata: a simple, all-in-one-pan egg dish

Due to the high-affordability of eggs around the world, just about every culture has a signature egg dish. The French have omelets, quiches, and souffles. The Spanish have their tortilla (which is not what we know as a tortilla but actually a skillet-cooked egg dish). Huevos Rancheros is a classic Mexican egg dish. Scotch eggs are British pub-fare. And in Italy, just about every cook knows how to make a frittata. 

Frittatas have a lot in common with the Spanish tortilla and the French omelet. All are made in a skillet, and all are great vehicles for leftover cooked meats and vegetables. What sets frittatas apart from other egg dishes is their utter simplicity -- beaten eggs added to a hot and oiled skillet, topped with cheese, with or without additional vegetables or meat, then top-cooked either by flipping or by finishing in the oven.

Frittata techniques and tips that succeed:

  • use a 9 or 10-inch oven-proof skillet (handle can go into an oven)
  • heat the pan before adding oil. There's a saying in cooking -- "hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick"
  • do not add extra liquids like milk or cream to the eggs
  • cook vegetables to reduce the overall liquid content before adding the eggs
  • adding the liquid egg to a hot and oiled pan quickly sets the bottom layer of the egg, creating a barrier between the still-liquid portion of the egg and the pan, preventing sticking
  • do not stir the eggs once in the pan

As mentioned above, there are two basic cooking techniques for making a frittata. One, cooking the entire frittata on the stove, flipping the partially set eggs onto a plate, then sliding back into the skillet to cook the other side. And two, which I think is the least complicated, starting the frittata on the stove, then popping it, skillet and all, into the oven to set the eggs. 

The most basic frittata is nothing more than eggs, onions cooked in oil, cheese, salt and pepper. Frittata wedges served on slices of Italian bread make a delicious open-faced sandwich for busy-day suppers. With the addition of some cooked vegetables, you've hit all the major food groups on a plate. Leftover frittatas can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Simply reheat and serve.

To get started, I'll share one of my family's favorite winter frittatas -- spinach, onion, and Parmesan frittata.

Spinach Frittata (serves 3 -4)

equipment needed:

oven-proof skillet, needs to have a handle that can go into an oven (9 or 10 inches in diameter), lid that fits the skillet
wire whisk and bowl
sieve or colander to drain spinach


5 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
1/2 large onion, diced
10-oz block frozen spinach, thawed, drained, water pressed out  OR  13.5-oz can spinach, drained, water pressed out
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
Parmesan cheese, about 1/4 to 1/3 cup

note: if using a non-stick skillet, use the lesser of the oil amounts. If using a regular skillet, use the greater amount of oil.

Thaw, drain and press water out of the spinach. Alternatively, canned spinach can be used -- drain and press out excess liquid.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the onion. 

Whisk the eggs with salt and pepper.

Heat the skillet over Med for a minute or two, then add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Tilt the skillet to coat the entire bottom of the pan. (I don't measure the oil, but just eyeball amounts.)

Add onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes, or until onions are barely golden around the edges.

Add the drained spinach to the pan, breaking it up and mixing in with the onions. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then sprinkle with about 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg all over. 

Spread the spinach/onion mixture evenly across the bottom of the skillet. Drizzle with remaining oil. (You want to be able to barely see a thin film of oil on the bottom of the skillet in any bare spots.) Cook for a half-minute to heat the added oil.

Quickly pour the egg/salt/pepper mixture over the spinach and onions. 

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 5-9 minutes. Check to see if the eggs look barely set -- the center doesn't jiggle when you shake the pan gently.

Remove from the oven and cover with a lid for 5 minutes. 

Use a table knife or off-set spatula to go around the edge of the frittata to loosen it from the skillet. 
Cut into wedges and serve. 

And that's how I make a budget-friendly, super-easy, supper, lunch, or brunch entree.

You can garnish servings with fresh tomato slices, herbs, more cheese, marinara sauce, grilled onions etc.

Add an additional egg for 4 larger servings.

This recipe, made as directed, contains about 40 to 44 grams of protein. When divided by 3 persons, that's 13-15 grams of protein, each. When divided by 4 persons, that's 10-11 grams per serving.

Cost for entire recipe varies, ranging from $1.45 to $2.40, depending on amounts of oil, Parmesan cheese, and use of canned (cheaper) vs frozen (more expensive) spinach. In addition, cost is obviously dependent on your local prices. 

Other possibilities: you can add 1/2 cup of diced, cooked meat and up to 1 1/2 cups of any cooked vegetable to a basic onion, egg, and cheese frittata. Suggestions -- zucchini, pepper strips, sliced mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, asparagus bites, etc. Just cook the vegetables with the onions until most of the water has evaporated. 

If you like creamy and melty cheese, cubes of Fontina, Swiss, or mozzarella can be used in place of grated cheese.

For a high-protein/low-carb pizza substitute, try a pizza frittata. Cook a basic onion, egg, and cheese frittata, then top with pizza sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and black olives. Pop back into the oven for a couple more minutes to melt the cheese, then remove and cover with a lid for 5 minutes. 

You can also make a plain egg and cheese frittata. Skip the onion, spinach, and nutmeg. You won't need as much oil, as there will be no sugars from onions or other vegetables to create sticking issues. Go ahead and reduce the oil by 1 tablespoon. Heat the skillet, add the oil, add the whisked eggs/salt/pepper and top with cheese. Then bake.

You might have noticed that my skillet doesn't have a handle. This is a vintage Farberware skillet from my husband's parents' home, near 70 years old. When the handle split and came off, we hung onto the skillet to use as an oven-proof pan, using oven mitts to handle it when hot. One of these days, I'll come across a replacement handle at a good price. Until then, this has made a great, oven-proof skillet.


  1. Great recipe! I tend to forget about making frittatas but they certainly would be an easy meal to whip up on a busy night. We have looked into making Scotch eggs but that's a lengthier process (but oh so good!). We had Huevos Rancheros at a restaurant while on vacation in Colorado a few years ago--we loved them and now they are part of my semi-regular dinner lineup.

    I look forward to your weekend cooking tutorials, Lili. Thank you.

    1. Hi Kris,
      We love Huevos Rancheros, too. So good.
      Thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it.

  2. Almost always our eggs wind up scrambled in a skillet with various things added depending on what we have or what we want. We used to do omelets, but scrambling is even easier. We never bake eggs unless we're doing a quiche. I'm wondering if there's an advantage to finishing in the oven as opposed to the stovetop? Of course, for single servings, nothing beats a microwave. In just a couple of minutes (including prep), you can have an egg ready to eat. And it's easy to add various things.

    Like Kris, I am enjoying your cooking posts. Thanks for doing them.

    1. Scrambled eggs are a fast, easy dinner. :)

      You made me think of this recipe: My daughter and I enjoy it and it's an easy meal when it's just the two of us. When Lili did her recipe game, there was a link for baked eggs that had some fun different ideas which I'd like to try sometime. Now to get the guys out of the house so we girls can enjoy a quiet meal to ourselves!

    2. Hi Live and Learn,
      Scrambled eggs are definitely a quick way to throw together a meal and something we do often.
      As for baking eggs -- the big advantage is that the whole frittata cooks evenly, no overcooked underside or topside. It's a creamier finished product compared to an omelet or cooking the frittata completely in a skillet on the stove (flipping it over halfway through cooking). So, it's a texture benefit. With microwaved eggs, have you found a way so they don't stick so much to the dish or mug? My problem has been the mug is so messy to clean-up. I haven't tried using cooking spray on a mug or dish, I wonder if that would make a big difference.
      Thank you, Live and Learn, for the feedback.

    3. For microwaving, cooking spray works great--very easy clean up. If we have it, we sometimes put a slice of lunch meat in the bottom. That's an easy clean up also and makes a good sandwich. It sounds like we need to try baking our eggs next time to see if there is a noticeable texture difference.

  3. great idea Lili! One veggie and egg dish that we have really liked is a version of bibimbap (a Korean dish). I use rice as the base, topped with any veggies sauteed. I have used carrots, onions, cabbage, bean sprouts - really any. Then top it off with an over easy egg. The yolk provides most of the sauce. You can also add hot sauce or soy sauce with a drizzle of sesame oil. If I have any ground beef that is needing used up I add that. It's a really good meal.

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      I will have to look that up. It sounds intriguing. My daughter-in-law tops fried eggs with a bit of soy sauce, which I think is very tasty. A drizzle of sesame oil would be wonderful. Thanks for describing this dish in such detail. I can just imagine it!


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