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ELEGANT FRITTATA IS JUST AN OMELET WITH FANCY NAME

Every now and then we take an official gourmet cooking class - partly to brush up on skills and learn something new - but mainly to check in on how the other half is living. Judging from my latest experience, the other half is looking pretty desperate, as in desperate ain't so un-gourmet after all.

So there I was in the kitchen of an official make-it-all-from-scratch, be-ahead-of-the-latest-trend, gourmet cooking professional, and I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. She was basically cooking eggs in a frying pan, and it was so easy that I was getting a little mad that I was paying all that money to watch.

OK, so the recipe does have a fancy name. It's called a frittata, which is Italian for what is essentially an omelet. Only it's faster and easier. You just mix a bunch of eggs together with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand for flavor and heft, and ta-da! Dinner is done.

The easier part is that, unlike an omelet, you don't have to flip a frittata over in half. This maneuver has always caused me a moment of extreme tension that I just don't need at the end of a harrowing day. Eggs, on the other hand - one of the world's essential comfort foods - are a blessing when the day has stretched on far too long. The line between breakfast and dinner should blur far more often in our humble opinion.

Our own version of this classic Italian dish, Mushroom-Prosciutto Frittata, is so simple, you don't need a gourmet cooking class to make it.

Menu

Mushroom-Prosciutto Frittata

Apple slices

Bakery croissants

MUSHROOM-PROSCIUTTO FRITTATA

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion (for 1 cup chopped)

1 package (8 ounces) already sliced fresh mushrooms

1 medium red bell pepper (for 1 cup chopped)

8 large eggs

2 ounces prosciutto, see note

3/4 cup already-shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Adjust the broiler rack to within 4 inches of the broiler element. Turn on the broiler.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (see note) over medium heat. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, adding it to the skillet as you chop. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms to the skillet. Seed and coarsely chop the bell pepper. Add it to the skillet. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are soft, about 4 minutes, stirring from time to time.

While the vegetables cook, break the eggs into a 1-quart or larger bowl. Beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy. Chop the prosciutto into half-inch pieces and add to the eggs, along with the cheese and black pepper. Stir to mix well.

Reduce the heat to medium and pour the egg mixture into the skillet. With the back of a spoon, push to distribute the vegetables, ham and cheese throughout the skillet (do not stir). Cook, without stirring, until just the surface is runny, about 7 minutes. Immediately put the skillet under the broiler and cook until the surface is just set but not brown, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Before serving, run a knife around the edge of the frittata to loosen. Serve at once by slicing into 4 wedges. Serves 4.

Cook's note: Prosciutto is available from the deli. (Make sure it's sliced paper-thin.) If you can't find it, substitute Virginia-baked ham sliced on the thinnest setting and add salt to taste. Be sure to use a cast-iron skillet or other oven/broiler-safe skillet.

Approximate values per serving: 314 calories (58 percent from fat), 21 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 444 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 727 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinners@aol.com.

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