Until a few years ago, I didn't make omelets for family dinners, even though they seemed a quick and easy weeknight meal that required little advance planning. Unlike those agile omelet cooks on television, I made them slowly and deliberately. And each time I stepped up to the stove to try my hand, it took me a while to get the feel of it again, so my first few omelets came out of the pan looking like scrambled eggs in semicircular form. And making them one at a time meant we ate in shifts as the omelets came off the stove, or one lucky person got a fresh, hot omelet while the other three got progressively older, oven-warmed versions.

But at a summer luncheon for six several years ago our French hostess announced she was making omelets. It was hot, we were all tired, and I remember thinking, "What a project!" But about 15 minutes later, we were all sitting down to a meal of cheeses, cured meats, olives and a 12-egg omelet centerpiece. She simply cut the puffed eggs into sixths giving us each a two-egg wedge. That was it!

Since then, I've never bothered making individual omelets; instead, I make what I call the Big Fat Omelet. I figure two eggs per person, then perhaps add an extra egg.

These big omelets save time, but there are a few roadblocks to navigate to achieve success.

Eggs that stick

After testing a variety of pans, fats and cooking temperatures, I find that a thoroughly and evenly heated nonstick skillet is an egg's best friend. Even before you crack the first egg or grate the cheese, let the pan heat slowly on low while the butter melts. A couple of minutes before you're ready to cook, raise the heat to medium or medium-high, depending on omelet size. (The bigger the omelet, the lower the heat.) By the time the eggs are beaten and the fillings are ready, the skillet is hot, but not scorching, and the butter is nutty brown, but not burned.

The temperature of the eggs is almost as important as the temperature of the skillet. Eggs straight from the refrigerator tend to stick, but it isn't necessary to soak them in warm water to get them to room temperature. After setting the skillet over low heat, crack and whisk the eggs; by the time the skillet's good and ready, so are the eggs.

What to add

Should you add milk to your omelet eggs? Since I don't like puffy omelets, I usually don't. If you do, choose buttermilk. Regular milk dilutes the egg flavor while buttermilk enhances it. When adding buttermilk to omelet eggs (or scrambled eggs for that matter), figure about 1 tablespoon for every 2 eggs.

Perfect the method

Once you've poured the eggs into the hot skillet, use a plastic or wooden spatula to push back the egg that has set, tilting the pan so that uncooked egg runs onto the empty area of the pan. Continue this gentle pushing and tilting until the omelet top is wet but no longer runny.

To prevent over-browning and to avoid working at a frantic pace, turn the burner to low while topping the omelet. Although I've given specific topping amounts in the recipes that follow, you really don't have to measure. You know how much filling you want on your eggs. Just grab a handful of cheese or a couple of pinches of herbs and sprinkle them on. When making individual omelets, I tri-fold them, but when making the Big Fat Omelet, I simply fold it in half once it's topped. Fold it confidently; the more fearful and hesitant you are, the more likely it will split. And if it does, so what? It's going to get divided at the table anyway.

How should this over-size omelet finish cooking? Ideally, it should spend its final minutes in the oven--I like the way the warm, enveloping heat finishes cooking the eggs. But if the oven is in use, you can stick to the top of the stove, partially covering the eggs with a pan lid and cooking them over low heat.

I've provided recipes, techniques and cooking times for eight-egg omelets, serving four people. Like the eight-egg omelet, a six-egger cooks in a 10-inch skillet. Omelets of 10 or 12 eggs can be cooked in a 12-inch skillet. Just remember to cook the bigger omelets over medium, not medium-high heat.

Since these omelets are done in five to seven minutes, don't add the eggs to the pan until you have prepared all filling ingredients and set the table. And round up the troops, giving them fair notice that dinner's almost ready.

The Big Fat Omelet

(4 servings)

Before you begin cooking the eggs, have the filling prepared and hungry diners nearby. Once the omelet has been topped and folded, you can cover it and finish cooking it on the top of the stove, or you can transfer it to a 350-degree oven. The slow even heat of the oven gently finishes cooking the eggs.

Filling (recipes follow)

1 tablespoon butter

8 to 9 large eggs

4 tablespoons milk or buttermilk (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the filling of your choice.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and buttermilk or milk, if using, with the salt and pepper to taste.

Increase the heat to medium-high and swirl the skillet so the butter coats the bottom and sides of the pan. When the butter starts to turn golden brown and there is a nutty aroma, add the eggs to the pan. Cook, without stirring, until the underside of the omelet just begins to set. Using a thin spatula, scrape the eggs that have begun to set to one side and simultaneously tilt the pan so that the uncooked eggs run onto the empty part of the pan. Repeat the process of pushing back the cooked eggs and tilting the pan until the top of the omelet appears to be wet but is not runny, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and quickly add your choice of filling over half of the omelet. Carefully fold the uncovered half of the omelet over the covered half. Partially cover the pan and cook until the fillings are warm and the eggs are done to the desired degree, 5 to 7 minutes. Cut the omelet into quarters and serve immediately.

Asparagus and Parmesan

(4 servings)

12 thin asparagus spears, trimmed to 2-inch tips, stems reserved for another use

Salt to taste

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, bring about 1/4 inch of salted water and the asparagus tips to a boil. Cover and cook the asparagus just until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the asparagus.

Place the asparagus over half of the omelet and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 218 calories, 17 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 439 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 473 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Salsa, Jack and Sour Cream

(4 servings)

6 tablespoons prepared salsa

1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) Monterey Jack cheese

3 tablespoons sour cream

Spread the salsa, cheese and sour cream over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 305 calories, 20 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 462 mg cholesterol, 12 gm saturated fat, 602 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Spinach and Feta

(4 servings)

1 tablespoon butter

4 cups washed and stemmed spinach

Salt to taste

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the sizzling subsides, add the spinach and salt to taste and cook just until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain thoroughly.

Sprinkle the spinach and feta cheese over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 217 calories, 15 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 446 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 473 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Lump Crab Meat

(4 servings)

1 tablespoon butter

2 bell peppers, diced small

2 tablespoons onion, chopped fine

2/3 cup lump crab meat

Salt to taste

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the sizzling subsides, add the bell peppers and onion and cook, stirring, just until wilted, about 1 minute. Add the crab meat and salt to taste and cook until warmed through.

Sprinkle the crab mixture over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 207 calories, 17 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 453 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 407 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Goat Cheese, Tomato and Basil

(4 servings)

6 tablespoons fresh goat cheese, crumbled

2 small plum tomatoes, cut into small dice and lightly seasoned with salt

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves

Sprinkle the goat cheese, tomato and basil over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 270 calories, 18 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 20 gm fat, 451 mg cholesterol, 10 gm saturated fat, 394 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Smoked Salmon,

Sour Cream and Chives

(4 servings)

4 thin slices smoked salmon (about 3 ounces)

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoon minced chives or scallions (green portion only)

Lay the smoked salmon over half of the omelet. Spread the sour cream over the salmon and sprinkle with the chives or scallions.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 220 calories, 17 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 442 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 443 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Parmesan and Fresh Herbs

(4 servings) 1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, basil or tarragon

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, mix together the herbs and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 211 calories, 16 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 439 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 411 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Cream Cheese and Caraway

(4 servings)

Heaping 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

6 tablespoons cream cheese, cut into bits

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the caraway seeds and cook, shaking skillet frequently to ensure even heating, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.

Dot half of the omelet with the cream cheese and sprinkle with the caraway seeds.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 253 calories, 14 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 457 mg cholesterol, 10 gm saturated fat, 336 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Watercress, Bacon and

Sour Cream

(4 servings)

You may substitute bacon drippings for the butter when making the omelet.

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, fried until crisp

2/3 cup stemmed watercress leaves

3 tablespoons sour cream

Spread the bacon, watercress and sour cream over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 242 calories, 15 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 444 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 407 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Artichokes and Ham

(4 servings)

1 tablespoon butter

6 small canned artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1/2 cup diced baked ham

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the sizzling subsides, add the artichoke hearts and ham and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the artichoke-ham mixture over half of the omelet and top with cheese.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 214 calories, 14 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 441 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 410 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Mushrooms and Parsley

(4 servings)

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup sliced mushrooms (about 8 ounces)

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the sizzling subsides, add the mushrooms, season with salt to taste and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in the parsley.

Sprinkle the mixture over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 196 calories, 13 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 437 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 332 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Ham and Cheddar Filling

(4 servings) 1/2 cup cubed baked ham or 4 thin slices deli-style ham

1/2 cup shredded sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)

Sprinkle the ham and cheese over half of the omelet.

Per serving (based on 8 eggs): 321 calories, 22 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 475 mg cholesterol, 12 gm saturated fat, 702 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber

Pam Anderson is author of "The Perfect Recipe" (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) and the upcoming "How to Cook Without a Book" (Broadway, April 2000).