In my memories, I often see my mom’s parents (who lived next door) in a low blue light. They always waited until the last minute of daylight to reach for the light switch, letting the long shadows of afternoons find their way into their kitchen. Their basement kitchen, where everything was coloured brown, relied on two small windows near the ceiling to let in the sun. Late afternoon to dusk was when I was called over for dinner and so the coolness of the darkened rooms during summer was an escape. But when company came over at night, the blazing yellow bulbs in the kitchen light fixture coloured everything with warmth.
When I remembered by grandparents making this frittata di spaghetti, my mind didn’t see the bright lights on over their stove like I have now in my attempts to get every dish they used to make for me right. I saw refreshing afternoon darkness and my Nonna giving the frittata its’ sweet time in the frying pan while my grandparents talked or read at the kitchen table. My Nonno used to affectionately call this frittata “spaghetti pie.” The name was ridiculous coming from him, but that was part of the charm of the dish. With its’ silly English name, I always thought he had come up with some new way I would like pasta that was more Canadian than Italian. Not so – this is really just a classic frittata with just a different ingredient inside.
If you search the internet for “spaghetti pie” (and I don’t recommend that you do) you get a lot of baked, gooey, overdone dishes that don’t appeal to me at all. The joy of this dish is in its’ crunchy exterior, the appreciation for the time needed to get it crunchy and the ability to share it easily and eat it by hand if you want. Made with leftover pasta most of the time, it’s another example of making sure nothing goes to waste. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to throw together that tastes good cold as well, so Nonno would pack it up in foil, a slice each, for picnics and fishing trips. How else can you eat pasta lakeside while waiting for your dinner to take the bait?
Frittata di Spaghetti
200g dry pasta / 400g cooked pasta (al dente)
3 large eggs
1 cup mozzerella, shredded
1/4 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano, grated
salt and pepper to taste
If you have leftover pasta that you are using for this recipe, use what you have and adjust the other ingredients to a consistency you like. To make this “pie” with fresh pasta, put 100g of pasta per person in a pot brought up to a rolling boil (make sure you have salted the water). Cook the pasta to “al dente”, the minimum cooking time on the package. If overcooked, the pasta will break apart and be mushy. Once your pasta is ready, strain it and run cold water over it to stop the cooking, cool down the pasta and prevent it from sticking to itself. You can also toss the pasta in one teaspoon of olive oil to prevent it from sticking while you get everything else ready.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Toss in the pasta and coat it well in the mixture.
Cover the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with a generous amount of olive oil. Heat on medium-high until the pan is hot. The trick to a good, crunchy exterior on this frittata is getting the mixture into a hot pan – it cooks the egg at the bottom immediately and stops all the egg mixture from sinking to the bottom.
Once your pasta and egg mixture is in, spread it evenly and cover the pan with a lid or a piece of kitchen foil. After two to three minutes, turn down the heat to medium. Allow this to cook, covered, until the top of the “pie” is set and the bottom is a gorgeous golden brown.
Now for the part that makes some people nervous (admittedly me too, but it’s not as hard as it looks). When your bottom is done, carefully carry the frying pan to a sink. Place a large dinner plate upside down over the frying pan to cover the top. With one hand on the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, quickly turn the frying pan over, turning the “pie” out onto the plate upside down. Return the frying pan to the stove, add in a tablespoon of olive oil and slide the “pie” back into the frying pan (brown side up) to complete the cooking for another five minutes.
The end result: a cheesy, tasty frittata di spaghetti that’s crunchy all around. Eat it hot, slice it up for guests or wrap it up for a picnic, anyway you cut it, you’ve got a piece of my childhood with you.