Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Frittata di Pasta (Pasta Frittata)

Had my fill of BBQ this weekend. After a big family party on Saturday in sweltering hot conditions (no air conditioning) and another cook-fest on Sunday I'm a bit pooped!  Now back home from the lake I don't have much in the frig and don't feel like trekking to the grocery store. On occasions like this I fall back to one of my most favorite and simplest of comfort foods, the pasta frittata. With some cooked spaghetti, a few eggs and cheese (ingredients most households have on hand) I can put together a delicious entree that everyone in my family enjoys. My mother used to make this dish on Fridays when Catholics abstained from meat, but I like to make it whenever I am in a pinch, any day of the week.

This is a delicious meatless dish, but adding sliced or crumbled pieces of cooked Italian sausage gives this dish an incredible boost of flavor. I prefer to make the frittata in its simplest form, with plain, cooked spaghetti and good Italian cheese, but if you have some leftover pasta coated in tomato sauce already sitting in the refrigerator, that's even tastier. This is a design-your-own kind of dish as any meat, vegetable, herb or spice can be added to suit your tastes. Oh, and the pasta can be spaghetti, penne or any other shape you like.

Essential to making this dish is a good, medium size, non-stick skillet or a well seasoned one that you have confidence the eggs or bits of cheese won't stick to. Like most frittatas, this one needs to be flipped in order for the eggs to cook through, but the pasta in this dish adds considerable volume, so flipping it is a bit tricky and somewhat intimidating. Though flipping and cooking both sides in the skillet produces a pasta frittata that has a nice crisp crust to it, once the eggs have fully set the balance of the cooking can be done in an oven, making sure, of course, you are using an oven-proof skillet.

The frittata is cooked in olive oil. With its larger than usual volume the cooking time is long so you must keep the heat even and not too hot. But, you want it hot enough for the surface and edges to develop a nice golden brown. This means the pasta at the surface will crisp up a bit which gives this dish great flavor and added texture. Both my husband and I think that's the best part of this dish. 

As for the cheese, my mother always used Tuma cheese which was a staple in her house.  Tuma is a cow's milk cheese that has a firm, smooth texture similar to a muenster or mozzarella but milder in taste. It was mom's default cheese. She used it in everything, grated in lasagna or stuffed pastas, sliced for sandwiches or to top an eggplant parmigiana.  Tuma is not readily available in grocery stores but can be found in most Italian specialty markets. As such, I use whatever cheese I have on hand, fresh mozzarella, muenster, provolone, or even swiss. 

In this dish the cheese is diced up into small pieces. I don't mix the cheese with the eggs and pasta mixture for fear it will adhere to the skillet and cause the frittata to stick. I add the cheese in parts as I pour the egg-pasta mixture into the skillet carefully distributing it throughout the skillet without allowing it to touch the pan.

I typically make this as a dinner entree served with a big, green tossed salad, but it is also great for lunch. It is good either hot right out of the pan, at room temperature or cold the following day.  Be sure to sprinkle generous amount of fresh grated cheese on top when serving. As usual, I prefer Grana Padano.  

What a satisfying dish, not too rich or too heavy. It has a great mix of textures, smooth and chewing in the center, with a nice crispy crust. And, depending on the cheese you pick, a nice salty, chewy, cheesy taste to balance out the blandness of the plain pasta. Delicious!

Frittata di Pasta

4-6 oz. of cooked spaghetti, well drained
4 eggs
pinch of salt and black pepper
1/2 c. cheese, diced or small slices tuma, mozzarella, muenster is best

good olive oil for frying
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta as directed on package. Drain well. 

In a large bowl beat eggs vigorously till well beaten. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked and well drained pasta and mix together. 

Heat a medium size, non-stick skillet. Add enough good olive oil to fully coat the bottom of the skillet, about 2 T. When oil is hot but not smoking, add enough of the pasta mixture to coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with some of the cheese making sure none of it touches the bottom or sides of the pan. Continue adding more of the pasta-egg mixture and more cheese till both are in the skillet and the cheese is well distributed making sure the pasta-egg mixture covers all of the cheese. 

While cooking, gently lift (without mixing or disturbing) the frittata from time to time to distribute the egg mixture, make sure the bottom is not burning or sticking to the bottom or sides of the pan. 

When the frittata appears generally well set (center is still runny but sides are beginning to firm up), place a dinner plate over the frittata (dish should be slightly larger than the skillet diameter). With your right hand, firmly hold the skillet handle. Place your left hand onto the center of the dinner plate. In unison, gripping the handle firmly and securing the plate onto the skillet, lift the pan off the heat and turn the pan 180 degrees so that the frittata is resting on the dinner plate. Lift the pan off the frittata and place it back on the stove. Now slide the frittata into the skillet runny side down, cooked side up, to finish cooking.

When fully cooked (center will be firm to the touch) slide onto a clean dinner plate. Sprinkle with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese. Cut into 6-8 pie wedges and serve.

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