The food world lost one of its greats on September 29, 2013, when Marcella Hazan passed away at her home in Longboat Key, Florida. It was Marcella Hazan who first introduced Americans to authentic Italian cuisine and forever changed the way we as Americans cook and perceive Italian food today.
An Italian newlywed, Marcella arrived in America in New York in 1955, speaking no English. When she encountered American Italian restaurants serving what tasted to her like overly spiced ketchup on spaghetti, culture shock settled in. With no cooking skills of her own, she was determined, as all of us are as newlyweds, to cook a proper meal for her husband. She learned English from watching television and, quite by accident, began to teach cooking classes after a course in Chinese food. The rest, as they say, is history. For more about her fascinating life and how she influenced Italian cuisine in America, I highly recommend this article in the New York Times, link here. Included in the article is a video of Mark Bittman’s visit with Marcella in her home where she relates her story of how she first started to write cookbooks. In the same article, Mario Batali is quoted as saying, “I didn’t pay attention to Julia Child like everyone else said they did. I paid attention to Marcella Hazan.” Lidia Bastianich calls Marcella “the first mother of Italian cooking in America.” High praise coming from some of our finest Italian cooks don’t you think.
Marcella’s recipes represent her love for simplicity and precision. For that reason, I chose to remember her with this recipe for a simple spaghetti frittata from her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. In the forward to this recipe, Marcella advises, “If you are making a pasta frittata for the first time, you will find this a good with to start with, to get the feeling, look and taste of the finished dish.”
Frittatas are very versatile and can be served sliced into wedges like a pie, or cut into pieces for an appetizer. Either way, they are delicious served warm or at room temperature, making them ideal for a buffet or party.
In this recipe, Marcella starts with freshly cooked spaghetti, slightly undercooked because it will undergo further cooking. We’ve been making spaghetti frittatas for years and often use left-over cooked spaghetti as the base of the our frittatas, but they require a bit more liquid than this recipe. If this is your first time to use pasta in a frittata, I suggest you follow her recipe to a T. Although the recipe calls for only Parmesan cheese and parsley as flavoring, I couldn’t help but improvise by adding a big handful of colorful sautéed sweet peppers for appearance. Once you get the hang of pasta frittatas, you’ll think of all sorts of ways to incorporate different ingredients from your favorite pasta dishes.
Marcella Hazan’s Spaghetti Frittata
Adapted slightly from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marella Hazan – serves 4
1/2 pound spaghetti, we like to use thin spaghetti
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 large eggs, beaten to blend and placed in a bowl large enough to hold the cooked spaghetti
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Added for color and flavor if desired:
½ cup finely chopped, sautéed red, orange, and yellow sweet bell peppers
Drop the spaghetti into 3 to 4 quarts of boiling, salted water and cook until firm to the bite. It should be a bit more al dente – more underdone – than you usually cook it because it will undergo further cooking. Drain and toss immediately into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, grated cheese, and chopped parsley, sautéed peppers if desired, and toss well. Set the mixture aside to briefly cool to avoid cooking the eggs in the next step. In the meantime, preheat the broiler.
When the spaghetti mixture has cooled for a few minutes, add it to the bowl of beaten eggs and mix thoroughly, distributing the eggs evenly throughout the pasta.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a nonstick skillet with a broiler proof handle. Before the butter starts to color, add the spaghetti/egg frittata mixture to the skillet. Cook the frittata on top of the stove for 3 to 4 minutes without disturbing the pan. Then tilt the pan slightly, bringing its edge closer to the flame of the burner. Keep the pan in this position for about 1 minute, then rotate it at a shade less than a full quarter turn, always keeping it tilted so that its edge is close to the flame. Repeat until you have come around full circle. Take a look at the underside of the frittata, lifting the edge gently with a spatula, to make sure it has formed a lightly golden crust all around. If it has not, cook a little longer where needed.
Run the pan under the broiler until the top has formed a lightly colored crust. Remove and loosen with a spatula. Slide onto a cutting board and cut into serving wedges as you would a pie. Alternately, cut into pieces or squares and serve as an appetizer. Good either warm or at room temperature.
This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, and Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper.