I don’t do leftovers. Once I eat something, I’m done and have moved on to the next thing. The Ex was good for this – he would eat anything and was pretty much a live-in fridge cleaner. Rather handy. Now I think a dog will do the trick.
The opposing factor here is that I hate to throw anything out. I will wrap up leftovers, fully intending to do something with them. Yet I know, deep in my soul, that my good intentions will eventually be pushed to the back of the fridge, slowly growing strange furry substances and go right in the trash container and all. I never learn.
But I’m making an effort. I’m trying to cook smaller quantities, finding ways to repurpose these bits into new things. Not leftovers per se but completely new dishes incorporating something I’ve cooked prior. Reviews are mixed. Some attempts have been more successful than others.
That’s why I like panzanella. Its a great use of leftovers yet isn’t a leftover itself – just a really great dish. Panzanella is a bread salad containing stale bread, tomatoes, oil, vinegar and basil that orgininated in the Tuscan/Umbria/Marche regions of Italy. The dressing and juice from the tomatoes combine to soften the bread and make a tasty, filling meal.
I’ve made very traditional versions with authentic Tuscan bread and some rather off-the-cuff versions based on what I had on hand. I may be alone on this one but I think this is the only time authentic Tuscan bread has tasted good. This particular bread is rather dull – flat, hard and flavorless. When I worked in an Italian bakery and we could take home the unsold bread at night, this one was always left behind. With no fat or salt, it’s designed to keep. I think “keeping” to a Tuscan means not going moldy but stale is acceptable, even expected. In fact, the Tuscans have a whole slew of recipes that utilize stale bread, ribollita, for one. I think they’re onto something. Besides being thrify, these recipes actually give the bread some flavor.
Today, I had half of a baguette that was fast approaching stale so that’s what I used. Whacked it into large crouton size chunks and toasted a bit in a 350°F oven. Some gorgeous red and yellow tomatoes were on the counter, waiting to be enjoyed. Chopped those up into large chunks and into a bowl they went. They were quite a sight. I had just finished making a couple jars of Dilly Beans and had about a cup of the green bean trimming so I cooked those in salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes until tender then shocked them in cold water to stop the cooking and keep the color bright.
All I needed was a vinaigrette. Have you seen Michael Ruhlman’s new book Ratio? It’s a great concept – most recipes can be broken down into a series of simple ratios that are easy to adapt and a snap to remember. I recommend that you check it out, especially if you like to riff in the kitchen. He was recently on NPR (the 7/11/09 episode of The Splendid Table to be precise) discussing the ratio for basic vinaigrette – 3:1 oil to vinegar. How easy is that?? You can jazz it up any way you like – herbs, mustard, citrus, different oils and vinegars. But at it’s most basic, that’s all you need to remember – 3:1. There was an awful lot of fresh mint in my refrigerator so I decided to use that instead of the more traditional basil in this recipe. Blended with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, a shallot, salt and pepper it was perfectly emulsified, fresh and bright.
I tossed the tomatoes, green beans and croutons with the vinaigrette and left it to sit for a while so the flavors could blend and soften the bread. Never one to leave something alone, I crisped up some bacon (everything is better with bacon, no?) then decided to add a poached egg. I’m a big fan of eggs with runny yolks; when that yellow oozy goodness blends in with the tasty bits in the bowl and makes a lovely little sauce, oh my. I throw eggs on top of a lot of things actually – Asian noodle soups, pasta, toast with grilled asparagus. Good good stuff. A perfect use for the very cool eggs with the bright orange yolks from my CSA/farm share. There is no better way to eat these eggs than poached and runny. Yum and oh so pretty.
This was one fantastic lunch – filling, cheap, bright and summer-y. The mint added a lovely zip that made the tomatoes really stand up and sing. The bacon added a hint of smokiness and the egg yolk blended with it all, adding a fantastic layer of richness. Not a bad way to spend a beautiful afternoon at all.
Stress Baking Therapy Factor: MEDIUM. This is really pretty easy to put together but scores big “sense of accomplishment” points for a homemade vinaigrette (impress your friends & neighbors!) and with the bacon and runny egg, is pretty up there on the comfort food scale. Though if you made the bread, grew the tomatoes and had eggs from your own chickens … well, then aren’t you special. And where do you live because I’ve moving in.
PANZANELLA (TUSCAN BREAD SALAD)
½ baguette or coarse grained bread – the staler the better
2 medium tomatoes (I used a red and a yellow)
1 cup green beans, blanched
2 eggs, poached
4 strips of thick cut bacon, diced and cooked crisp
coarse salt & pepper
6 Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
2-3 Tablespoons fresh mint, minced
couple grinds of fresh pepper
healthy pinch of coarse salt
- If your bread is good and stale, you’re fine but if not, toast it in a 350°F oven until dry and golden brown.
- Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and place in a medium bowl – seeds, juice and all.
- Cut the green beans into 1” pieces if you haven’t already and add to the tomatoes.
- Make the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, garlic, shallot, salt and pepper in a bowl.
- While whisking, drizzle in the olive oil and keep whisking until the mixture is emulsified.
- Stir in the chopped mint. Taste for seasoning and adjust – you may need additional mint if the flavor isn’t strong enough for you.
- Toss the vinaigrette with the tomato/green bean mixture then add the dry bread croutons.
- Let the mixture sit for a bit to soften, about ½ hour will do but don’t let it sit for too long. You want a little crunch in the croutons.
- Taste – you may need a bit more salt.
- Divide the salad between two serving plates/bowls.
- Top each with a sprinkling of bacon bits, a poached egg, a dash of freshly ground pepper and a pinch of coarse salt.