Here’s a quick fix for leftover spaghetti- the Italian frittata. I made a huge portion of spaghetti al pomodoro or tomato pasta for dinner, and there was some left unfinished. So, I did what I learnt to do in Napoli years ago- saved it up, to reinvent it the next day. All it takes is a tangy egg-batter with all the spices and additional ingredients you think will go with the basic pasta sauce already in the spaghetti, then you stir it in to coat all of the pasta well, and cook up a great open spaghetti omelette, for breakfast or brunch. It turned out quite yummy. Crispy on the outside, softer inside, ready to pack for my son to take to school. Its the done thing in Italy, with all kinds of pasta, not just spaghetti. But it has to be said that spaghetti works best because it sets well and doesn’t fall apart when you want to cut out individual slices of the cake shaped omelette. Other kinds of pasta could pop out in pieces and get messy, unless, you choose to bake the omelette in the oven with extra egg to bind it all together.
The possibilities are endless for combinations of sauces to make your pasta with, and then again for the ingredients you choose to add to the egg-batter to make the frittata. What I have done here is to pick the most basic combinations. The tomato-basil sauce with garlic in extra-virgin olive oil is the standard thing to go with. Its like the other most famous export of Napoli- the Margherita pizza. The way it is made in wood-fired pizzerias across Napoli is the finger-licking best. The best pizza crusts ever, and the most delicious toppings- tomato, basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and of course mozzarella! This is a pizza you have to fall in love with. Tweaking this standard combination would be no less than a sin for the discerning. So too, with the pasta al pomodoro. You don’t add anything, or take away, if you want it to taste the way it’s meant to. But where you get to be creative is with your frittata, when using up the leftovers. The frittata lends itself beautifully to the way in which we tend to ‘Indianise’ most of our recipes. So I get to add as much chilli, pepper, olives, capers, anything I feel like. The frittata has of course been adapted by many, to serve a range of palates. Here’s what went into my frittata:
I’d have to start with the primary sauce of the main course pasta had for dinner first, which uses the classic Italian recipe. Fry plenty of garlic, peeled and cut length-wise (cut or crushed any other way will burn the garlic) I used a little more than one pod, because I cooked a kilo of spaghetti and used about a kilo and a half of fresh tomatoes for the sauce. This was mostly because we had a lot of farm-fresh tomatoes to go, and because I like really tomotoey pasta. You could change the ratio to suit your taste. I dice the tomatoes up and blend them in the mixer to avoid big chunks or rolled up skins that are harder for children to digest. I didn’t do this in Italy, because the vine-ripe tomatoes there were ideal for pasta sauces and would breakdown nice and even when cooked. I’m using local tomatoes in India, which are quite different in taste and texture, so I find the mixer helps. Its best to have all your ingredients on hand before you start cooking, so you’ll need a generous bunch of basil leaves too. I often use a mix of Italian basil and tulsi (holy basil) because I have so much of it growing at home and it feels like a shame to not use it, given its many medicinal properties. I also use chilli flakes and a bit of pepper in my sauce, although in Napoli it was only a few chilli flakes added towards the end.
Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large and open hard-bottomed pan (you’ll need one with a lid), add the garlic and fry till golden brown, you can add some basil now to infuse the oil with the flavour, and then the pureed tomato/ or chopped pieces if you prefer. Stir the mix immediately to stop the popping when the tomatoes hit the hot oil and cover it for a bit till it settles down. Then open cook it, stirring frequently, because you want all the water to evaporate and the sauce to thicken. Add salt to quicken the cooking and more basil, coarsely broken with your fingers. Around now, you could start to heat the water to cook your pasta as well. Choose a longish vessel to fit in the length of the spaghetti.
Time taken for the sauce to cook through and thicken will depend on the quantity. You need to leave the pan uncovered until the water evaporates. As the sauce starts to dry out, it will start to pop a lot, and you’ll need to cover it with a lid, but still need to stir it often to prevent sticking and burning. Turn down the heat. When the oil separates from the tomatoes, the sauce will have reduced considerably, will start to glisten and be ready. Taste it to see if you need to add more salt or chilli flakes and or pepper. Turn off the heat on the sauce and set aside, getting the water for the pasta to boil. Add a good quantity of sea salt to the water once it boils (don’t add earlier, because that will delay reaching boiling point), stir it in, and into this salt water add all the pasta you intend to cook. Set the timer according to the time needed to cook indicated on the packing. Stir the pasta often, remove excess water into another vessel, if it tends to boil over and add it back later when the water reduces. Adding a bit of oil to the water keeps the pasta from sticking together. Check the pasta when the timer goes off. The way to actually have it is al dente, which is firm to the bite. But most Indians prefer it almost squishy and overdone. According to your preference, turn off the heat when done and drain the pasta using a colander. Don’t run cold water over the pasta at this stage, like we do with noodles or you’ll wash off the salt. Mix the pasta immediately into the sauce and serve with a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese for authentic flavour.
Set the leftovers aside and let it cool. You can even refrigerate it, well covered. But if your main purpose is to make a frittata with your pasta straightaway, then just let it all cool down completely. If you add eggs to the hot pasta, they’ll cook immediately and it won’t help. While it cools, crack up some eggs. Again depending on the thickness of your frittata, you could vary the quantity of eggs. I only had a little pasta left, so I used two eggs. To the eggs, I added chopped up olives- back and green, capers, salt and pepper, some leftover pizza seasoning combining oregano, chilli flakes, basil and thyme. You could see what else you have left over in the fridge to add to this. Beat up the mix vigorously, so its fluffy and airy, and then pour over the pasta. Mix it all up well. Heat up a nonstick skillet with a good handle, and of a size that you can flip comfortably. Its width will decide the height of your frittata too. Heat up some extra-virgin olive oil, and then pour the spaghetti-egg mixture into the pan. Open cook it on medium heat till the bottom is crisp and browned evenly. Then flip it either using the lid of the pan for help or a suitable ladle that can lift the weight of the frittata. Cook the other side the same way. Don’t cover the frittata while its being cooked or it will become soggy with the steam. Once done, transfer the frittata to a dry plate using something to prop it up a bit till it cools down- this is to prevent it from sweating under and getting soggy. It tastes best when its crisp on both sides and cooked through but softer inside. You could have this by itself, or with a dip, or serve it with a nice fresh green salad on the side. Frittata’s were often made and carried to the beach during lazy summer afternoons, or had as breakfast or even brunch in Naples. But in India, the same frittatas have mostly become quick breakfast/ lunch options for my son as he goes to school, though they remain popular with the grown ups too.
If you fancy the basic concept, you may want to check out some of these interesting recipes: