Cucina Povera: Egg Cutlets

Post image for Cucina Povera: Egg Cutlets

I have a particular fondness for “sleeper” recipes. More often than not, the dishes that earn a place in my heart, and that make repeat appearances at my dinner table, are the unassuming ones that require no special ingredients or complicated techniques. They aren’t the kinds of recipes that set trends (sorry trend watchers–no candied bacon or duck fat here). They’re like the quiet kids in the class; they don’t command a lot of attention but they get their work done and they do it well.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this preference. Even for those of us who enjoy a good challenge in the kitchen, there is something enormously satisfying about sitting down to a plate of food that is simple and honest and that delivers a lot for very little. A dish of spaghetti aglio & olio, for example, or my Zia Gilda’s pancotto (“cooked bread” soup).

Quite a few years ago I came across a recipe in Gourmet magazine. It was the January 2001 issue and the cover showed a gorgeous, meticulously decorated layer cake. The recipe that caught my eye however, was one printed in “Sugar and Spice”—the section of the magazine that contained letters from readers. The writer, who described herself as of Sicilian descent, spoke with great affection of her late mother’s egg patties, made with a mixture of eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, and parsley. My kids were very young at the time—4 and 2 1/2—and those egg patties, or “cutlets” as I dubbed them, seemed like the perfect form of nourishment—easy to eat and easy to digest.

They were also a great example of Italy’s ingenious “cucina povera” (poor man’s cooking), with bread crumbs, eggs, and cheese standing in for meat. Thick batter is dropped by the spoonful into a hot skillet filmed with oil.The cutlets begin to take shape immediately, bubbling around the edges. When you turn them, they puff gently, like pancakes. After they are cooked, the cutlets are simmered briefly in tomato sauce, absorbing some of the sauce’s moisture as well as its flavor.

The first time I made these cutlets I marveled at how good they were, light yet substantial, and mildly garlicky. My kids loved them (though my son in those days preferred them without the sauce). I made egg cutlets regularly for several years and then, somehow, they fell out of our dinner repertoire. I guess I figured that the kids, whose palates were becoming more adventurous, might find them too ordinary.

The other day I was making bread crumbs intended for an altogether different recipe when it struck me how long it had been—years—since I had made egg cutlets. I dug out the old Gourmet issue, took the eggs out of the fridge and got to work. As the first batch of patties was frying in the skillet my daughter came into the kitchen to investigate. “I recognize that smell!” she exclaimed. She looked at the bubbling cutlets. “What are those? They look sooooo good!” To my slight dismay she had no recollection of the patties themselves, though their warm eggy aroma had been planted in her memory. I decided the time had come to invite egg cutlets back to the dinner table.

By the way, not only are egg cutlets nourishing and delicious, they also make a fine vegetarian main course for Meatless Monday, if you participate in that, and also for Lent, if you happen to observe that ritual. But you certainly don’t need a reason to make egg cutlets. They are that good.

Makes 4 main-course servings

Egg Cutlets

(adapted from Gourmet 2001)

Ingredients

  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups canned chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup water

  • For the egg cutlets:
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Make the sauce: Heat the oil and onion in a saucepan placed over medium-low heat. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the onion is softened. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance. Stir in the tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil and water and remove from the heat. Cover and set aside.

Make the egg cutlets: Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, and garlic in a bowl and stir well. Stir in the eggs, salt, and pepper to taste. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderate heat until shimmering but not smoking. Drop 3 to 4 rounded tablespoons of egg batter into the skillet. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the edges are set and the cutlet is nicely browned on the bottom. Using an angled spatula, turn the cutlets and cook another 2 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Transfer the cutlets to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue to cook the remaining cutlets in the same way, adding additional oil to the skillet if necessary.

Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet and arrange the cutlets in the sauce (they will fit snugly). Simmer over medium heat, turning the cutlets once, until heated through. Serve the cutlets, three to a person, with sauce spooned over them.

Cook's Note: The cutlets can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to 2 days and frozen for up to 1 month.

, ,

26 Responses to Cucina Povera: Egg Cutlets

  1. Sue @ All About Food March 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Oh, what a wonderful idea. I must try these soon. I buy local farm-fresh eggs. They will make delicious Egg Cutlets. My grandchildren are coming this weekend. I’ll try this dish out on them — my best taste-testers! Thanks for digging out an old favorite from your file!

    • Domenica March 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Sue. This would be a great dish to serve grandkids. There’s something so appealing about these little egg patties–and you can’t beat eggs from the farm. Enjoy.

  2. Jen H March 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    These are so going on my list for Meatless Monday Meals!

    • Domenica March 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Jen. It’s funny how something so simple can have so much appeal. Enjoy!

  3. Ken⏐hungry rabbit March 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    A delightful recipe that I’m eager to incorporate into my weekly repertoire.

    • Domenica March 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

      Thank you, Ken.

  4. Liz the Chef March 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Totally with you on the love for simple recipes that one cooks over and over again. This looks so tempting. Trying to move in a heart-healthy direction, I’ll bet a could sub egg whites for at least a couple of the eggs. I love this!

    • Domenica March 8, 2011 at 12:29 am #

      Definitely try it with more egg whites, Liz. Why not? If you do, let me know how it turns out. We could stand to be more heart-healthy in our house, too.

  5. Lael Hazan @educatedpalate March 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    I am in total agreement with you that sometimes Cucina Povera is the most flavorful and comforting food possible. We too, often don’t make “trend” setting recipes. Rather, like your egg cutlets, we want to make food with love and share it with our friends and family. Brava!

    • Domenica March 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

      Grazie, Lael. I think that one of the reasons people love Giuliano’s books so much is because so many of his recipes are not only delicious but they are also accessible. Most of the time, people just want to be able to feed their families well. (Every Night Italian is one of our all-time favorites and gets a lot of use in our house.) Cheers

  6. Steve Scarcia March 12, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    Dear Domenica,
    Thank you for putting this recipe online. Your “Egg Cutlets” (our family called them “bread cutlets”) were “the prize” for the kids at the table when we were children. You see after my grandparents and/or parents made either the veal or chicken cutlets, they usually had left over eggs and breadcrumbs. In today’s scheme of things, people would most likely toss them, but my Italian family mixed them together and after everything else was done, they would fry these “bread cutlets” as we called them, in the last of the tasty olive oil which had fried either the veal or chicken. A sprinkle of salt and yum! It’s not just Cucina Povera but a matter of “waste not, want not.” Though we never had tomato “gravy” on them, why not! The only difference to our recipe was the use of “Progresso Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs.” Can’t remember a time when we didn’t have that blue container or two on the shelf. We simply added some Peccorino Romano cheese, fresh parsley, fresh garlic and when available, some aromatic basil. As a matter of fact, we would use this same egg/breadcrumb mixture to make “cutlets” where we added Cardoons, Asparagus or Zucchini. The best part of this is that it can be the main course of the dish with a salad (with arugula!) and a homemade glass of Italian red wine. You got me thinking…I’m going to the kitchen right now and fixing me some!

    • Domenica March 12, 2011 at 2:41 am #

      Hi Steve,
      Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. Isn’t it great how food can connect people and bring back such good memories? Now I am curious about cutlets made with cardoons, asparagus & zucchini! Cheers and buon appetito!

  7. Nicole May 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I think these sound wonderful!

  8. Lana May 3, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    I come from Serbia, and comfort food is always our own version of Cucina Povera:) I have never made these egg cutlets, but they reminded me of potato croquettes my mother made from leftover mashed potatoes. It was a side dish that we adored, but it somehow disappeared from my dinner menu, just like yours. Time to bring it back, as I always have leftover mashed potatoes.
    And I will make the egg cutlets, because I know that they will be a hit in my family!

    • Domenica May 3, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Lana. I think there are a lot of similarities between our cuisines. My mother and her sisters used to make potato croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, as well as rice croquettes from leftover risotto. They always stuck a piece of mozzarella into the center of the croquette so that when we ate them, hot out of the frying pan, there was always some delicious gooey cheese to bite into. And you’re right–it’s time to bring those back to the table.

  9. Bridget Dia August 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    Oh my gosh!! Here I thought my Sicilian mom made this recipe up herself. Wonderful to read someone else had found it in a magazine. I have not had eggs done this way since my childhood, but I am going to make it tonight. Thanks so much for finding this recipe and putting it on the net.

  10. Sylvia October 16, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    Thank you for posting this wonderful recipe. I did substitute dried parsley (3 tablespoons) instead of the fresh–I simply forgot to pick some up. These turned out beautiful and all 3 of my children loved them. This is going into the regular rotation!

  11. Elisa March 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I remember reading this recipe on your website and I knew one day I would make these egg “cutlets”. Yesterday I finally did, was a nasty snowy day and the smell of those “cutlets” were the most welcomed scent! I too, like you son, prefer them without the sauce, I instead spritzed them with lemon juice. Grazie again for another gustosissima ricetta!

    • Domenica March 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      Elisa, this is such a coincidence. Minutes before you posted your comment, I was in my car on the way to pick my daughter up from school, wracking my brain about what to make for dinner tonight. She and I are meatless for Lent. The two recipes that came to mind were this one and the tuna-tomato sauce from Glorious Pasta. This one won out. I like your idea of spritzing them with lemon juice–that’s always what I do with chicken or veal or fish cutlets, so why not egg?

  12. Tara February 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Thank you thank you thank you! My great grandmother would make these for me when I was a little girl. Nana called it papaita and it was one of my favorites. she passed away about 17 years ago and I have not had them since. Coming from Sicily as a little girl with only a 3rd grade education she didn’t write any of her recipes down. Just tonight sitting at my grandmothers death bed (Nana’s daughter) we had her talking about old times I asked if she knew how to spell papaita and if she could remember how to make it. I got bits and pieces from her like toasting bread in the oven and grating to make bread crumbs and there were a lot of eggs. With this little tidbit of information one must google, and here I am. In sad times finding this recipe has given me comfort.

    • Domenica February 14, 2013 at 7:24 am #

      Tara,
      Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother but it makes me happy to know that finding this recipe brings you a little comfort.

      I’m not familiar with the term “papaita” but I wonder if the “pap” refers to the bread ~ sort of like “pappa al pomodoro”, bread and tomato soup that is another great example of “cucina povera.” Oddly, though I grew up in an Italian family, I never had these until I saw a recipe for them in Gourmet. How far cucina povera has come…

      Thank you again for sharing your story. My best wishes to you.

  13. Josie April 13, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    I am of Sicilian descent and found your recipe/article while looking for the spelling of our name for this dish – frozzia?? (I still can’t find it.) We loved when our mom made chicken or veal cutlets. Never one to waste anything she would turn the leftover breading ingredients into these wonderful egg batter cutlets. Her ingredients were similar to yours but she used a type of mint we grew in the yard instead of parsley. My children have grown up thinking of them as a treat to eat when I make cutlets as well. I loved reading that others grew up enjoying them.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 15, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Josie, welcome and thank you for your comment. Don’t you love Italian resourcefulness? I’ll have to try your Sicilian version with mint. I have a patch growing in my garden. It’s probably not the same variety but I’m sure it will be good. Cheers, D

    • Jennie August 23, 2016 at 12:18 am #

      My best friend in high schools Father used to make these for us. He called them Froizzas also!

  14. Phyllis Mackey July 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    My mother died when I was a young girl. I have been racking my brain trying to remember what it was she made on meatless Fridays that had eggs, cheese and parsley and looked kind of like a pancake. When I saw this recipe I knew this was it. I don’t think we had it with sauce. Thanks so much. I can’t wait to try it . I can’t quite remember what she called it, but in my mind she called it brioche. Thanks so much!

    • Domenica Marchetti July 18, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

      Hi Phyllis, thanks for your comment. I hope this lives up to your memory!

Leave a Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: