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]
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.
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¢*
4 ounces uncooked pasta………30¢
*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?