Pasta Frittata: Eggs elevated

by Terry B on April 30, 2008

Peppers, Parmesan and leftover pasta come together beautifully to give eggs a rustic sophistication, as Pasta Frittata. Recipe below.

I don’t know about where you are, but here in Chicago, gas has already blown past four dollars a gallon. And milk is getting close to that price. So when I saw that Ginny over at Just Get Floury had posted a challenge to make a dish that serves at least two people for five dollars or less, it sounded like an idea whose time had come.

Ginny calls her event the Dollar Dish Duel, and while she just challenges her readers to “make a dish for $5 that must feed at least two people,” I took it to mean more than a simple side dish [who can't steam some green beans for under five bucks, for instance]. To me, the challenge was to make something substantial that either stood alone as a meal or became a meal with the addition of a small salad or the aforementioned green beans or, as I chose at the last minute, some fresh strawberries.

Ginny says in her rules that you can use three staples from your pantry—salt, pepper and oil were her examples—without counting them in your budget [there's still time to enter, by the way—the deadline is May 5]. I further interpreted the rules to mean that if I only used a portion of something and the rest were saved for a later use, I could count the cost of only the portion I used against my five-buck limit.

With this wiggle room, even meat could work within the guidelines. And after all, I’ll often buy a package of chicken breasts or ground beef planning to get two meals from it. But as much as I love meat, I decided it would be more interesting to make a meal without it for this event.

Most important, though, it had to be good. I wasn’t interested in simply proving I could whip up a meal for cheap. The meal had to be something I would happily serve, if not to company, then as a family dinner. Something we would happily eat. And something I would happily make again.

Soups and scrambles and stir fry all immediately came to mind, but nothing really got me excited. Soups and I are taking a little break right now; I just feel the need to see other courses. Scrambles sounded too breakfasty. And stir fry main courses without meat almost always involve tofu. Yawn.

Then I thought of an elevated form of scrambled eggs: Italian frittatas. Specifically, a frittata Marion has made a number of times, using leftover pasta. She hadn’t made it in so long that we’d forgotten where she first saw a recipe—or even what to call it. The classic frittata is kind of an Italian omelet and doesn’t include pasta.

A little noodling around on Google, though, turned up boatloads of frittata recipes using pasta—and leftover pasta, at that. Some were baked, some were started on the stovetop and then broiled to finish [the classic frittata technique]. Some used cheese, some didn’t. Some even insisted on using pasta mixed with red sauce, which sounded more like a desperate measure than a recipe to me. But virtually all of them involved mixing the beaten eggs with the boiled pasta before any of it went into the pan. I followed Marion’s approach instead, sautéing the cooked pasta in the skillet before adding the eggs. It gives the frittata a satisfying crunchy quality we really enjoy.

Leftover Pasta Frittata
Serves 3 to 4

1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional if needed
leftover cooked capellini pasta, from 4 ounces of dry pasta, about 11 ounces cooked [no sauce]
4 eggs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Equipment needed: 10-inch nonstick skillet

Prep the peppers. I went back and forth between saying to dice or chop the peppers. Essentially, you want smallish pieces of the peppers and the onions. With the jalapeños, you want just the flavor and the color for this dish, not the heat, so remove the seeds and the ribs. And if you’re not using gloves, wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done!

Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over a medium flame [Rather than finish the frittata under the broiler—our broiler's pretty crappy for such processes—I used Marion's method of flipping the frittata with plates; if you're going to use the broiler method, make sure your skillet is broiler-friendly]. When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil, then sauté peppers and onion for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add pasta to pan, tossing to coat with oil and incorporate peppers and onion mixture. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed. When ingredients are thoroughly combined, press down on pasta with spatula to flatten it as much as possible. Let it cook undisturbed for 6 to 8 minutes [don't toss it—you want it to be flat and kind of cook into a single unit]. Meanwhile, beat eggs in a bowl and whisk in grated Parmesan. As you get to the end of the cooking time for the pasta, check it carefully. The edges should be turning golden, and if you tilt the pan, the pasta should move as a unit. As Marion said, “It stops being a bunch of noodles in a pan.”

Beat the eggs a bit more to mix the cheese evenly throughout and pour them all over the top of the noodles, making sure the eggs spread evenly. Gently lift the edges of the noodle mass to get the egg flowing underneath and completely coating the pasta. Let the eggs cook for 6 to 9 minutes. You want them to set up pretty firmly. The top will still be a little “loose” in the middle, but the edges should be fairly firm.

If you’re using the broiler method, slide the pan into a preheated broiler and finish cooking. Here’s what we did, though. Carefully slide the egg and pasta mix onto a waiting dinner plate [don't use your best china—you're not serving on this plate and accidents can happen]. Cover the plate with another dinner plate, this one inverted. Firmly grasp both plates and quickly flip them. Remove the first plate, admire the beautiful cooked side for just a second, then quickly slide everything back into the pan and finish cooking the other side. About 1 or 2 minutes should do it. Slide the frittata onto a serving plate, slice it into 3 or 4 pieces and serve, with a side salad or some fresh fruit. If the first side was a little too browned for presentation purposes, do what I did and flip it again—the second side should be a pretty golden color.

Kitchen Notes

So did I meet the challenge? With flying colors! I came in well under the $5 limit and what I thought would serve two people could actually serve four. Here’s an estimated breakdown:

4 eggs @ $1.79/dozen………..60¢
1/2 red bell pepper…………….50¢
2 jalapeño peppers…………….37¢*
1 onion………………………………5¢*
4 ounces uncooked pasta………30¢
Parmesan cheese………………..25¢*

Total $2.27

*Regarding the prices, we live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and jalapeño peppers are a staple. They are plentiful and cheap. A nickel for the onion is probably overstating its cost—I got onions at a produce stand for 19¢ a pound most recently. And even though our most recent hunk of Parmesan cheese is semi-pricey and from a swell little store called Provenance, do you know how little you grate to make 1/4 cup?

As always, a quick thanks to my lovely bride. Marion not only let me co-opt her frittata cooking method, she consulted with me as I devised my own take on it and stuck by me as I did the actual cooking.

Also, a quick thanks to Ginny for inspiring this dish with her Dollar Dish Duel. You can join in the fun between now and May 5th. She promises to have the round-up posted soon afterwards. Be sure to check back.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 4/30/2008

Beyond organic: Biodynamic wines. More wineries are embracing ways to have a smaller negative impact on the environment, produce better wines and improve their own working environment, at WTF? Random food for thought.

Stay tuned—the delight of discovery on the radio. Letting someone else program your music can lead to surprising little gems, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

grace April 30, 2008 at 8:22 am

what a great idea for a blog event, and what a fabulous contribution on your part! i’ve only made one pasta frittata, and it was with boiled noodles. i was unimpressed, but i think that sauteing the pasta might change my mind. what can i say, i’m all about second chances. :)

Jennifer Hess April 30, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Mmmmm. The first frittata I ever tasted was made with leftover pasta, actually! I’m going to have to make one soon – yours looks and sounds lovely.

Patricia Scarpin April 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm

I saw something similar ages ago on another blog, “Tea and Cookies” (if I’m not mistaken) and thought it was genius. I used to have leftover pasta all the time, but it stopped ever since I started weighing it before cooking (I’ll eat 80g, Joao will eat 130g). I think I’ll cook some extra spaghetti next time, just to try your recipe. :)

Aimee April 30, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Cool idea. We love egg dishes around here and why not throw in some pasta!

Ginny April 30, 2008 at 11:13 pm

I love it! Thank you so much for your entry and your kind words! Great work! Looks delicious! :)

Susan from Food Blogga April 30, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Pasta frittatas are classic comfort food in our house. They’re remarkably delicious, easy to make, and, yes, inexpensive. This is the ideal entry for Ginny’s event.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) May 1, 2008 at 12:22 am

Frittatas are my go-to for weeknight dinners or weekend brunch. It’s easy to make a great frittata for one or two — and nice to see how economically you made this one!

Terry B May 1, 2008 at 1:10 am

grace—Yeah, somehow the simply boiled noodles feels like it would give the dish the consistency of really thick mac and cheese. Sautéing the boiled noodles gives it some crunch and solidity.

Jennifer—I checked your blog and was delighted to see that you’re already cooking and blogging in your new kitchen.

Patricia—And if you’re not going for budget as I was with this challenge, you can introduce multiple cheeses, for even more taste.

Aimee—When we have this it feels as if we’re eating something more substantial than just eggs. As I said, I thought what I made would serve two, but it made four servings—and I wasn’t hungry later, as I thought I might be.

Ginny—Thanks for the inspiration. Hope you get lots of cool entries.

Susan—By the way, Jennifer’s new kitchen [see above] is in Providence. I’m sure any cool food tips for her would be much appreciated.

Lydia—I could see this being a great brunch item, maybe even cut into smaller slices if there are other savory dishes to be shared.

cara May 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Love the idea for this blogging event, and your frittata sounds fabulous!

Kevin May 2, 2008 at 1:54 am

That frittata looks good. I like the idea of adding pasta to a frittata.

Nina May 2, 2008 at 6:17 am

I would love to have this for my breakfast thanks. It looks delicious.

Mike of Mike's Table May 2, 2008 at 4:15 pm

I keep meaning to make a frittata–I’ve never had one before! This sounds really tasty and like a great entry for the event. I also thought the inclusion of pasta was an interesting touch

Ron May 6, 2008 at 5:53 pm

I don’t know about where you are, but here in Chicago, gas has already blown past four dollars a gallon.

Pause for hollow laughter! Here in the UK it’s gone past the equivalent of $10 a gallon.

It’s always struck me on US food blogs how much cheaper food is there (and not just due to the rate of exchange) – dirt-cheap fuel just rubs salt in the wound… Anyone want to adopt me?

Terry B May 7, 2008 at 1:47 am

Cara, Kevin, Nina and Mike—Thanks so much! For a fairly humble dish, frittatas are quite tasty and versatile. And if you’re not trying to do budget as I did here, you can really dress them up with all kinds of fun ingredients.

Ron—You know, when I wrote that opening, I was remembering driving around the UK long ago and paying lots more for gas even then. But Europe long ago figured out fuel-efficient vehicles, and distances are comparatively shorter. I remember once when a Brit visiting Chicago told me where he lived. I said, “Oh, that’s near [insert another town name here], isn’t it?” He said, “I didn’t used to think so until I came to the States.” All that said, I’m hoping soaring gas prices will end this country’s love affair with hulking, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Someone June 30, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Oooh! Neat Frite!

someone June 30, 2008 at 8:33 pm

It looks good…any ideas for classic frittatas?

Terry B June 30, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Someone—Thanks for stopping by! A quick search of Epicurious turned up 57 frittata recipes. I’m sure you’ll find something there. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll have a look myself!

joejhorn July 7, 2008 at 12:26 am

Hello, Love the blog. I just made some spinach and cheese frittata and thought you might be interested. Come check it out when you have the time.

Regards,

Joe

http://cookingquest.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/frittata/

Terry B July 7, 2008 at 1:07 am

joejhorn—Not just spinach and cheese, but bacon, spinach and cheese. My three favorite food groups. Thanks for stopping by!

maggie September 18, 2008 at 8:15 pm

This inspired me…I just might make this tonight—feeling a little overextended, budget wise, and getting a bunch of mustard greens in the CSA box tonight…could be perfect… (add bacon as suggested above?)

Terry B September 19, 2008 at 3:08 am

maggie—As far as I’m concerned, there are few things bacon won’t improve. And it’s a natural with eggs, isn’t it?

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