As the crisis continues and our pursestrings get tighter, many Americans are moving back into the kitchen with great results. It’s times like this that send us looking back to our ancestors — in this case, my ancestors: Italians — for inspiration on how to stretch the most basic ingredients and get creative with leftovers. Luckily, cucina povera, or Tuscan peasant cooking, does just that. Here are just a few inspirational ways to use up some of the most common kitchen staples, making sure you get the most out of everything you buy.
If you’re buying all-natural, organic bread (and I hope you are!) you may notice that it’s going stale more quickly than the preservative laden stuff. While this is normal, it can be annoying, especially when you can’t get through a full loaf without having to throw part of it away. Luckily, the Tuscans have several ideas on how to use up stale bread.
In the summer, turn to panzanella: this salad uses cubes of stale bread, soaked first in water and then tossed with olive oil and crisped in the oven, as croutons. This panzanella recipe uses the dressing and natural juices of the vegetables in the salad to flavor the bread cubes.
Another more seasonally appropriate use for stale bread is in ribollita, literally “re-boiled,” a term for soup that has been boiled with day-old bread. This authentic ribollita recipe will give you some guidelines, but both recipes are perfect for using up any vegetable on its last legs. Use the recipes themselves as jumping-off points for whatever you have sitting in your fridge.
Growing up, I knew perhaps before I knew how to form complete sentences that reheated pasta is sacrilege: microwaving yesterday’s pasta is a last resort for me, especially when recipes using leftover pasta are so plentiful. Aside from throwing the cold pasta into a pasta salad or soup, a Tuscan recipe is that of frittata di pasta.
This Italian-style omelette is finished in the oven, so be sure to start with an oven-proof skillet. Heat some olive oil, and sauté whatever vegetables you need to use up: tomatoes, peppers, onions… even leftover tomato sauce or the last of yesterday’s soup. Add leftover pasta and toss to coat with the oil, then scramble several eggs in a bowl (my general rule is three per person) and add them to the skillet. Allow the frittata to puff up on the stove, then slide the entire pan into a 350 degree oven to get the top nice and browned.