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Tamar Adler's 'The Everlasting Meal Cookbook'
An excerpt and some breadcrumby recipes
crashes into May concludes with a preview of Tamar Adler’s wonderful new book, The Everlasting Meal Cookbook, which reads like a thesaurus of leftovers. Like Giulia Scarpaleggia's Cucina Povera, it is a culinary guide to making the most of what one has, except here the content is arranged as a 500+ page reference manual, first by ingredient class (vegetables, fruits, soup, proteins, etc.), and then within each section alphabetically by use. It is an ingenious idea, exhaustively implemented, and just the sort of essential, keep-handy tome I love.1
Amazingly, it covers seemingly every type of leftover you could imagine, especially since it gives recommendations for how to repurpose specific dishes, not just staple leftovers. For example, the “Beans and Rice” chapter provides recipes and advice not just for how to use leftover cooked rice, but also for leftover arancini (make arancini popovers!), arroz con pollo (fried arroz con pollo!), congee (more congee!), paella (paella arancini!), and so on. It almost makes you think you could live on leftovers alone, cycling and recycling them into new dishes, infinitely.
Today I have an excerpt and a few recipes (chosen almost at random, because it was hard to pick faves in this case) from (natch) the “Bread” chapter, titled poetically (as are all of the others), “How to Grow Old.”
HOW TO GROW OLD
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be!
--Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
Stale bread can’t be asked to act like fresh bread. It will abstain. But if you regard it as it is—its dark brittle crust, its dry, absorbent crumb—and set your mind to work upon its new qualities, making plans to crisp it further into croutons, or grind it into bread crumbs, or poach it into panade, stale bread is dazzling in its flexibility and willingness.
I try to slice and freeze bread when it is long of fresh and short of stale. Then, any time I want, I can make a meal of it, and feel justified in having bought and eaten only half a loaf of good bread. I think of a meal thus made as Big Toasts, and I eat and serve it often, because it puts good bread and vegetables or cheese or fruit or eggs at the center of the plate, giving more proteinaceous matter the night off.
The procedure for making Big Toasts is variable, but the bones are the same. Remove as many slices of bread from the freezer as there are mouths (or two per mouth, depending). Place them in the oven or toaster oven at 400°F. While the toast is toasting, warm any leftover roasted or sautéed vegetables in a small pot with a sprinkle of water. Rub the toast with the cut side of a garlic clove, then drizzle it with olive oil and top it with the warmed vegetables. Drizzle this with more olive oil, if you like, and consider anything else you might like to add, like grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or a drizzle of yogurt, or ricotta, or chili sauce, or salsa. Or, if it’s summer, thickly slice a tomato or an avocado (or both), add salt and pepper abundantly, top with herbs, and eat. Or remove the cold delicious leftover baba ghanoush or tzatziki or hummus from the refrigerator. Treat any as you would vegetables, salting and oiling and accessorizing your toast attentively and slathering the leftover dip wall-to-wall, so that each bite offers some of the best of everything. That is a Big Toast, and though it is not a Big Meal, two of them make a medium-size one. Plus, once Big Toasts are part of your own pattern, you can elaborate. Put your garlic-rubbed toast in the bottom of a bowl, and scoop hot beans on top. Or make a little herb salad and put that on your toast and squeeze it with lemon. Or top garlicky toast with leftover fish mixed with olives and capers and pickled onion. The Toast will be the meal, and it is ever available as long as you have sliced and frozen bread.
When facing bread that is harder and dryer, and not easily sliced, remember that over the course of human history, there have been many instances of bread just that hard and dry. There exist delicious solutions for every circumstance. Somewhere in the world, someone has used bread so coarse and dry it would serve as a doorstop to make a salad, a sauce, a soup, and a supper. I’ve included all the stale bread recipes I know here. But the world is big. There are more, and there is wisdom in each.
Here are some pillars of stale bread cooking.
TO MAKE FRESH BREAD CRUMBS
Saw off the crusts if you can; if not, leave them. Cut what remains into cubes or chunks. If the bread isn’t totally dry, set an oven to 200˚F, spread in a single layer on a sheet pan, and leave in the oven until hard and dry, then remove and let cool to room temperature. Grind in a food processor to fine or semifine crumbs. If there are any crumbs too large to easily use, set a medium-mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the crumbs through. Store breadcrumbs in a bag or jar in the freezer.
TO MAKE TOASTED BREAD CRUMBS
Heat the oven to 400˚F. Saw off the crusts if you can; if not, leave them. Grind the bread in a food processor into rough crumbs. Toss with a good deal of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet in a single layer, and cook until golden brown and crisp, 5—12 min, checking on them and mixing throughout. Remove to another surface immediately to stop their cooking. Cool, then store breadcrumbs in a bag or jar in the freezer.
TO MAKE CROUTONS
Heat the oven to 400˚F. Saw off the crusts if you can; if not, leave them. Tear the rest into pieces of similar size. Toss with a good deal of olive oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 10—15 min, checking on them and mixing them midway. Remove to another surface immediately to stop their cooking.
HERBY BREAD DUMPLINGS (35—45 min)
½ cup fresh or dried bread crumbs, ½ cup milk, 1—2 tbsp butter, ½ cup very finely chopped onion, 1 tsp salt, 1 egg (beaten), ¼ cup chopped fresh dill, 3 oz cream cheese or Boursin, ¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional), freshly grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese for eating.
In a medium bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and salt and sauté until tender, 10–15 min, then remove from the heat. Add the egg to the bowl of bread crumbs and mix well, then add the onion, dill, and the cream cheese or Boursin. Form into dumplings of a size and shape you like. Bring a deep sauté pan of lightly salted water to a very low simmer. Add the dumplings and cook until slightly swollen and tender and cooked through, about 20 min. Remove to a plate and blanket with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan or cheddar. Eat hot.
Also very good in broth.
NAANCHOS (25 min)
2 or more pieces naan, ½ cup warm refried or freshly cooked beans, ½--1 cup grated cheese, ½ cup finely chopped onion, 2 tablespoons pickled chiles, sour cream, guacamole, cilantro.
Heat the oven to 400˚F. Cut the naan into bite-sized triangles. Lay on a baking sheet and toast until crisp, 8—10 min. Remove from the oven, cover with the beans, cheese, and onion and return to the oven until the cheese is melted, another 5—10 min. Top with the chiles, sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro, and eat.
RIBOLLITA (1—2 hr)
Olive oil, 1 medium onion (diced), 2 cloves garlic (sliced), 2 stalks celery (diced), ½ tsp salt plus to taste, ½ cup combined parsley and rosemary (chopped), ½ tsp chile flakes, 3 whole peeled tomatoes (fresh or canned; chopped), 1 bunch leafy cooking greens (kale, collards, or chard, stemmed and chopped; or 1 cup leftover cooked greens), 2 cups cooked beans, 2 cups broth (bean cooking liquid or any combination of chicken stock, liquid from cans of tomatoes, or water), 1 piece Parmesan rind, 2 cups cubed stale bread, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large pot. Add ¼ inch of olive oil, onion, garlic, celery, and salt. Cook until they begin to soften, about 5 min, then add the herbs and chile flakes. Add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat for a few min so everything can get acquainted. Add the chopped greens and ¼ cup water, cover the pot, and cook over medium-low heat until the greens are just wilted, 3—5 min. Add the beans, broth, and Parmesan rind and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the bread cubes, along with ½ cup olive oil. Cover the pot and cook over the lowest possible heat for at least 45 min, stirring occasionally and adding water if needed to keep things from sticking. It’s done when the bread is completely melted into the soup. At which point… stir in another ¼ cup olive oil, taste for salt, remove the cheese rind, and serve warm, topped with Parmesan and black pepper. Ricotta, Parsley Oil (p. 68), or pesto are all good dollops and drizzles for the top.
Excerpted from THE EVERLASTING MEAL COOKBOOK by Tamar Adler. Copyright © 2023 by Tamar Adler. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc.