An insightful essay by food-and-wine mavens Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca on the evolution of Italian-American cuisine brought me back to growing up in Brooklyn with a family that had survived the Great Depression. Although my parents and aunt were better off than most, having been gainfully employed and comfortably housed, during that dismal era, they nonetheless were deeply affected by it. My mother especially, who frequently recounted woeful stories of having witnessed people on breadlines in her youth, was extremely frugal, despite being the wife of a successful attorney. Moreover, as a family, our weekly dinner menus closely reflected the Depression-Era pattern described in Darrow and Maresca’s essay:
“Pasta three days a week was common; soups and frittate (Italian-style omelets, usually with vegetables or cheese sufficed for two or three other days. Monday, in almost every household, was soup night. Sunday was sacred to un buon’ pranzo. . . antipasto or soup, or at least a broth, followed first by a pasta course, then by a roast meat, most often a chicken. Dessert in the time-honored form of fresh fruit usually concluded the meal.”
Reading these words steered me over the last week to re-purpose leftovers from two meals into frittate. On Monday, a storage container filled with spicy farfalle pasta in a red-pepper-flake-laden tomato sauce, which I had cooked over the weekend, provided the filling for the first frittata.
A more atypical filling was provided a few days later by some leftover kielbasa that I had glazed with mustard and apricot preserves and roasted with bell peppers and onions.
Both were delicious and I must admit that I was surprised by how well the second one turned out. To me, however, what was most satisfying about these frittate were the childhood memories they evoked: my aunt slowly cooking them, gently pushing the cooked portions to the center of the pan to allow the uncooked eggs to take their place; the tense moment of her flip her wrist to invert the frittata on a plate and slide it back into the pan to finish cooking; my family around the table as the frittata was set down to be sliced, and my father declaring “Ah, la bella frittata.”
More than frugality, it’s memories like these that motivate me to continue making a simple dish that sustained so many Italian-American immigrants in difficult times.