The Professional Kitchen, the Foreigner, and the Leftovers
Podere Conti Olive Farm
Tuscany, Macerie/Filattiera di Lunigiana/Pontremoli, Italy
03 February 2011
Sick kids and friend-in-residence at home with a cold all week + Regardless of weather, Spring is coming and so are guests + Newborn baby and four other boys keep Mom and Dad on high alert = Lauren digging through leftover ingredients and getting creative to use everything I pull out from deep within the restaurant’s fridge here at the Agriturismo.
I left the main house, sweeping past my room to grab the upside-down, nearly dry salvia (sage) from the knob on my kitchen cupboard and stuffing it under my arm. I grabbed a few other herbs from the side garden along the way: loads of thyme, rosemary, and oregano. In the restaurant’s kitchen there was an abundance of eggs, too many to use before expiry, and plates of miscellaneous well-grazed cheeses. Yep. Frittata.
In the refrigerator, a single broccoli head clung to its base within an inch of its life, wilted leaves having surrendered days ago, but head still holding out for a purpose. A single courgette (zucchini) was left behind, like E.T. And there were onions, and garlic too, the braidable kind, all needing to be rescued. I liken the scene to an ASPCA PSA, either Willie Nelson or Sarah McLachlan torturing you into taking all the needy ones home... There are no bad vegetables, only bad owners. So I took them all out of the fridge and brought them into the family.
“Unzipping” the thyme is my least favorite of culinary tasks, little random sticks throwing me off my zen center periodically, but oregano makes up for it with ease. The dried sage crumbled right off the branch, an almost powdery addition to a growing bowl of already-excessive herbs. But that’s how I roll. You can never have too many fresh herbs in a salad, or in a frittata. Trust me on this one. The herbs take a frittata from a passive Sunday peasant meal to a new level of delicious. Throw in a lot of finely chopped garlic and white onion, grated potatoes, rock sea salt, black pepper, and lots of eggs. And what do you get? A big mixing bowl of something that will amount to nothing without the cheese.
In this case I wanted to use up what was there, or at least inch closer to the goal. Not so hard to do with assorted small pieces of leftover cheeses, especially if you substitute a baking dish for a fry pan and put it in the oven, making it a casserole. Isn’t it safe to say that all cheese works in a casserole, even the stinky ones? I wasn’t sure, but I should have bet on it. I stirred in large grated bits of parmigiano reggiano, Edam, and something stinky as Hell I found wrapped on a plate. Then I pulled apart pieces of Taleggio, a mild gorgonzola, and goat cheese, sort of roll-flicked them off my fingers into various parts of the mixing bowl, then stirred them in. Now we were off to the races.
Oven at the Centigrade version of 350 for about 40 minutes yielded a perfectly-browned, creamy cheese, but well-formed deep-dish frittata perfumed all the way through with off-the-plant herbs and garlic. Later at room temperature, it was amazing, especially drizzled in Podere Conti’s 2010 olive oil. I love the bite of a fresh pressing of oil, and I am here at the source. The herbs had done their part to keep sharing the love throughout the day, seeping into all the pores of everything inside. And the vegetables were nestled, but still perky in their new home. And we didn’t sing Kumbaya at the table, but we should have. But I now have Italian street cred, which is nice.
As for the leftover cooked pears and apples in a sweet watery broth... I cooked them down. All the way down. Then added a pinch of cinnamon and grated in some nutmeg. Down, down, down, until it looked like chunky applesauce. For five children, a zip of the blending wand makes just about anything look like kid grub; hence, fruitsauce was made. The kids loved it as it was, but for me something was missing. Yes, cheese. Out came the Halfdome-at-Yosemite- wedge of aged parmigiano reggiano and I attacked it like a granite wall, which it was. Flaky chunks crumbled into my plate and I dipped into the fruitsauce with an espresso spoon and scooped it all up together. It was a perfect pairing for the adults and kids alike. That’s a pretty good testimonial in an Italian household of seven eaters, four being grade-school-aged, for one American fumbling about the kitchen to feebly bridge the gap between Old World and Wine Country USA, with a little bit of American Southern for good measure.