Leftover pasta. That last portion of spaghetti Bolognese or penne all’arrabbiata always poses a dilemma: too much to throw away after last night’s dinner, but not quite enough for another meal.
There are different schools of thought about what to do with it. I love eating leftover pasta cold for breakfast, right out of the serving bowl — the flavors of the sauce always seem more intense after they’ve merged with the chilled pasta for a few hours. My mother prefers to heat hers up for lunch, adding a little water to stop the pasta from sticking to the pan. That can be good too, though it never seems to have quite the buoyancy of just-made pasta.
The Italians are well versed in this dilemma. They’re masters of transforming leftovers – what they call gli avanzi — into dishes whose texture and structure transcend the original ingredients. Just think of the great soups the Tuscans produce — like pappa al pomodoro or ribollita — from a few slices of stale bread and a handful of vegetables.
Frittata di pasta avanzata
For leftover pasta, the Italians have come up with a simple yet brilliant solution that only requires the one other ingredient you’re almost certain to have in the fridge too: eggs. Frittata di pasta avanzata is like an Italian version of a Spanish tortilla: a thick, well-set omelet with pasta replacing the potato. The flavoring depends on what the pasta was dressed with, but this dish works best with tomato, meat or vegetable-based sauces that have lots of character.
The method could not be simpler and, like all good Italian recipes, is infinitely flexible, but try using four or five eggs to one portion of leftover pasta. You want enough eggs to bind the frittata. Unlike French-style omelets, which are cooked fast in a very hot pan over high heat, a frittata should be cooked slowly over low to medium heat so the eggs set gently without more stirring.
Here’s how to make it. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Stir in the cold pasta. Add a handful of grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, and some chopped herbs if you have them handy. If you prefer, stir in a few capers or some diced ham. Mix well and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little butter or extra virgin olive oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan. (It’s important to use a non-stick pan or well-seasoned skillet or you’ll have trouble later turning the frittata.) Pour the egg mixture into the pan and spread it into an even layer. It should be at least an inch thick. Cook slowly for 4 to 5 minutes until the egg has begun to set. Loosen the edges of the frittata with a wooden spatula and shake the pan to stop it from sticking.
Continue cooking until the underside is golden, about 6 to 8 minutes more. Turn the frittata by placing a large flat plate over the pan and, holding it firmly in place, turn the pan over so the frittata drops onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the pan onto the other side and continue cooking until it is golden brown too. That’s it.
Slice the frittata into wedges and serve hot or cold. This frittata is great for picnics, in sandwiches or on its own with a salad. You can also use slices in a mixed antipasto spread. Making a frittata is also a good way to get your kids to eat eggs: Let them focus on the pasta shapes.
Top photo: Frittata di pasta avanzata. Credit: Carla Capalbo