December 4, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Saving grace

By |2018-03-21T18:39:20+01:00January 23rd, 2010|Da Germano|
A frittata is perfect for a makeshift get-together.

fter the holidays, people often take stock of what they’ve spent. That’s particularly true among Italians, where having sit-down meals with family and friends is an essential Christmas rite. December leads all other months when it comes to food costs.

In fact, some families gear up months in advance. On Christmas Day I had lunch in Perugia where the hostess and three friends had prepared 7,400 hand-made Umbrian “Cappelletti” (a traditional Christmas dish). As she told me about all her hard work, her husband, a postal clerk, dutifully informed me he’d counted all the cappelletti and that they’d made 100 less than last year.

What fascinated me was their complete reliance on organic foods. The eggs for the pasta came from hens bred by the family, the meat in the tortellini was from local farms (with low CO2 impact when it comes to transport), and the capons for the broth were bred and castrated in-house. The husband told me his wife was so expert at castrating chickens that early in their marriage he thought twice about sleeping with her.

Looking at this grand but careful meal reminded me of the extent to which most Italian foodstuffs are still produced in villages scattered throughout country. Thanks to local culinary traditions, Italian food can be seen as having a low environmental impact.

That’s not the case in many Western nations, where affluent lifestyles can lead not only to overeating but pure waste. Kevin Hall, a member of the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, calculated how much Americans could have eaten based on the average weight of Americans between 1974 and 2003. He then examined data sent by the U.S. government to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome over that same time period regarding the amount of food available for public consumption. He calculated “wasted food” based on the difference between available calories and calories consumed. For example, in 2003 Americans on average had a potential of 3,750 calories daily. Of that number, 2,300 were actually consumed, meaning 1,450 were lost — that’s 40 percent in the garbage.

Researchers blame consumers, who either buy too much and let it rot in the fridge or eat too much, too fast, with the leftovers going nowhere.

These lifestyle changes have a lot to do with income. After the war, most Italian families bought only what they knew they could eat. My grandmother still drains olive oil bottles to the last drop, a vestige of wartime days when oil was available only on the black market and cost a ton.

These days, many people shop just once a week, on their days off. That leads to massive fill-ups, some of it useless. I’m among the impulse-buying culprits. I fall for new products or “miraculous” three-for-two offers. It’s only when I get home that I have to ask myself why I bought something I really didn’t need.

According to Italy’s National Association of Dieticians (ANDID), Italy throws away six million tons of edible food annually, or 27 kilos a head. That’s annual waste worth €584 per person.

Having read about the lifestyle of

Colin Beavan, the so-called “No Impact Man,” I decided to put together a no-impact recipe, a frittata.

The classic frittata, a kind of half-breed omelet, usually involves choosing between appropriate leftovers and adding eggs at the end. It can qualify as a hot meal, an apperitivo or a snack, maybe with a good medium-bodied red wine such as a Sangiovese Romagna or a delicate white such as a Trebbiano.

You can create your own no-impact meal by asking friends to come over with leftovers. You can then combine and match the resulting frittata with a favorite wine.

Frittata no impact (Ingredients for 4-to-6 people)

  • 4-6 eggs (one medium-sized egg per person).

  • Leftover vegetables.

  • 6-7 slices of ham or bacon; you can also use raw hamburger meat (150 gm).

  • Either ricotta or fresh goat cheese, or diced solid cheese (250 gm) and 1.5 dl of cream or milk.

  • Parmigiano Reggiano.

  • Breadcrumbs.

  • Extra virgin olive oil.

  • Salt and pepper.

  • Medium size baking pan.

  • Tinfoil.


Check your fridge for any leftover vegetables such as zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, onions, spinach, endives, or any leafy vegetable that is not too bitter. Also be on the lookout for any ham, bacon or raw hamburger you might have bought (80/100 gms).

  • If it’s prosciutto, cut it up. If you find bacon, slice into small pieces and toast in a skillet or oven. If its leftover burgers, crumble them and brown the remains in a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil with a little salt and pepper, then pour out grease, but not so much that the meat gets dry.

  • Look for cheese and cut it into cubes (250 gm) or buy some cottage cheese or fresh goat cheese (250 gm).

  • To make the bread crumbs, take leftover bread, toast it at 180 ° C, and put the toasted parts into a blender.

The next step is choosing among your ingredients. Let’s say you have zucchini and asparagus.

  • Slice the zucchini. For asparagus, remove the toughest parts, and cut it into small pieces (2 cm). Also cut some slivers of sweet onion.

  • In a frying pan, mix the onion slices, zucchini and asparagus with extra virgin olive oil. Cook the mix until the asparagus softens (don’t overcook), then salt and pepper and let it cool.

  • If it’s broccoli, let it boil a little in salted water, then put it in a pan with olive oil, garlic, chili and a little white wine which should quickly evaporate. Add salt and let cool.

  • For potatoes, cut them into cubes (2 cm wide), boil in lightly salted water, and let cool quickly by placing them in cold water. Dry the potatoes and then pan fry them with olive oil and some finely chopped onion. Salt and pepper and let cool.

  • With spinach, cut into small pieces, boil in salted boiling water and squeeze. Pan fry them with a little butter and finally sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper. Let cool.

  • With lettuce, cut into small pieces, boil in salted water, squeeze dry, and cook them like broccoli. Let cool.

You can use one of these options or all of them together. Just remember the obvious: The more you’re putting in, the larger the pan you’ll need. After you have your ingredients set up:

  • Break the eggs into a bowl and beat fast with a fork. Mix this well with ricotta or goat cheese. If you don’t have either of these cheeses, you could combine solid cheese cubes and melt them with cream or milk over low heat. Let cool.

  • Powder the mix with a little Parmesan and stir, adding two tablespoons of bread crumbs and the ham, bacon, or hamburger meat. Meanwhile, line a pan with a sheet of tinfoil greased with a little olive oil. Add your vegetables to the mixture, and pour it all into the pan.

  • Bake the frittata in a preheated oven at 170/180° C. The omelet is ready when its top layer turns golden-colored (20-30 minutes).

About the Author:

Germano Zaini was born and lives in Rome. He has a degree in biology and works for a pharmaceutical company. He loves traditional Italian and international cooking, mixing flavors to create his own brand of "fusion" cuisine. In his spare time, he cooks for his American wife and friends.