Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Wasteful Youth

When I was young, we just tossed all the leftovers. In-sink garbage disposals, trash compactors, new gadgets were designed just to get rid of the leftovers. Eat ‘em? Yuck! Eventually we got a dog, and he became the primary leftover disposal concept.

You never saw Margaret serve Jim (Father Knows Best) any leftovers. June certainly didn't spend her time bundling up whatever Wally and the Beaver didn't finish for the next day. And nary once did Alice hear complaints from the Brady kids on this subject. Did we all just collectively forget what to do with them? Or maybe the concept of leftovers didn't fit into those prosperous boom times?

Seems unbelievably wasteful now. I knew then, and still know, people who categorically refuse to eat something that is left over from a meal.

But before super markets, nutrition was too hard to come by and too precious to just throw away.

Fried rice. Minestrone soup. Hash on the day after roast beef. Recycled leftovers all.

Seems like every food culture has come up with lots of ways to deal creatively with leftovers. Food cultures that involve a lot of bread seem particularly prolific in dealing with leftovers.

Such as Germany. Big bread eaters. They often make bread dumplings. Taking stale bread, moistening it with milk, some eggs, onion and parsley. Then simmering balls of the dough like pasta, and serving them with a lot of gravy.

Pain Perdu, one of my favorites (French Toast over here), is an ideal way to use up those leftover ends of French baguettes that have gotten too stale to enjoy.

Bread pudding, Tuscan tomato and bread soup, bread salad (panzanella), the list goes on. To my surprise at the time (long ago), bread crumbs and croutons are not things that turn up in cellophane bags in the grocery store in every country on earth. In many places, these things are produced continuously, at no extra cost, as the daily fresh bread that does not get eaten is saved for a day or two and used some other way.

What brought all this thinking on, in a round-about way, was an interesting looking ricotta and tomato tart I had seen in the Weekend herb Blogging round-up at a Blog called Experimentation of Taste, by Crispy. And it occurred to me that I had a container of ricotta in the fridge that was not getting any fresher. Screaming to be made into some ravioli, or something.

But there is no time for making ravioli this week. Even in my dreams, I’m too busy to pull that off.

And that tart looked delicious. Bright roasted tomatoes. Creamy ricotta. Basil. I had everything on hand, and I felt everything would be acceptable to the critics here, until we got to the crust. No bread crumbs. And anyways, I can’t get anyone to eat bread crumbs, even panko style, except me.

But, this is fortunately where my miserly habits and knowledge of international leftover culture came in handy. Because I don’t throw leftovers away until someone pries it, occasionally green and fuzzy, from my desperate hands. So I had some failed sourdough whole grain bread, a good week old, sitting around becoming despondent. And it took just a few minutes in the food processor to turn this very healthy, if dry and dense, bread into some great tasting bread crumbs.

And there we were. With a variation of the ricotta tart that was maybe a bit heavier and earthier of crust than the Experimentation of Taste version, but pretty much the same else wise.

Naturally, since I can’t seem to make anything without changing it a bit, I used all the rest of my ricotta, which was a good 2 cups instead of the suggested one, and increased the eggs to 3 from 2 to compensate. And we tossed in more grated cheese than suggested as well. Well, TeenBoy did. Mainly because TeenGirl was not around to stop him. The result of this seemed to be that the tart took longer to bake. I left it in the oven for a full hour at 450ºF before it seemed ‘done’. But I can tell you, it was just as delicious tasting as the original picture looked!

On the side, I made a simple wheat berry salad. Just wheat berries, cooked in chicken broth and thyme, with a little orange juice and zest, and some cooked chicken and parsley tossed in at the end. This really complemented the tomato ricotta tart nicely.

Ricotta and Tomato Tart
Recipe by Crispy
Found at: Experimentation in Taste

My modifications were to increase the ricotta to about 2 ½ cups, the eggs to 3, the grated parmesan to ¾ of a cup, and I used fresh whole rye sour dough bread crumbs. The baking time seemed to increase as well, to about an hour, same temp. Otherwise, everything the same!

Wheat Berry Salad with Chicken
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 as a side dish

3 cups soft wheat berries
5 cups chicken broth
fresh thyme sprigs
juice from 1 orange
zest from one orange
salt, pepper
2 chicken breasts, cooked, de-boned and cut into small cubes
1 cup parsley, chopped

In a large pot, combine wheat berries, thyme, chicken broth, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 60 minutes, adding additional water if it dries out. The result should be moist, with just a little unabsorbed broth. Stir in the chopped chicken, heat through for a few minutes, and stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Enjoy!

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Blogger Brilynn said...

I always have to find some way of disguising leftovers and tricking my family into eating them.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Callipygia said...

hi surfindaave, this tart looks great. I am so with you on the leftover issue and find that dealing with it forces me to be a more creative cook. BTW, I love Socal you are lucky to be living there!

10:54 AM  
Blogger chrispy said...

LOL love your post. Yours looks great. I think I would love to try some. Can you email me a piece?

I personally use up all the bread even the hard stuff the dog snubs as bread crumbs. Just that day I seemed to be out of bread and any kind of bread products. That was corrected, but if you glanced at my WDB it had to be fixed again.

3:40 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Thanks for the 'leftover' support!

I guess I'm in the minority, but I almost always enjoy the leftovers, or finding ways to make things out odds and ends.

Chrispy - I would e-mail you a piece of the tart if I could, but it got eaten up too fast! Great recipe!

11:01 PM  

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