Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leftover Experiment

So, earlier last week, I made a very large pot of soup. It was good soup, to be sure. An adaptation of the Farmhouse Minestrone in Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift's book How to Eat Supper. (I said last week I was having a flirtation with it, and I still am.) It's a hearty soup--with vegetable stock and tomatoes, onions, carrots, and celery, chard and zucchini, cannellini beans and parmesan. For the hell of it, I added some orzo too. And I happily ate the soup for lunch and dinner and lunch again. And I didn't make much of a dent in the pot. (I usually count on Alex to help make a dent, but he was lax in his soup eating this time.)

On Sunday, the large container of soup was staring rather balefully at me from the fridge, and I was worried that I might end up wasting it, if I didn't start eating a lot of it, and quickly.

And then I remembered.

One of the great things about this cookbook is the number of variations offered. And on the very next page, after the soup recipe, was this one: "Tuscan Baked Minestrone with Garlic Bread (Ribollita)."

Ribollita is a classic Tuscan soup--basically bean and vegetable soup with bread. If you google it, you will find many, many variations. But this one turns it from a soup into a sort of casserole.

You take some stale bread, rub it with garlic and tear it into bite-sized pieces, then spread it on the bottom of a casserole dish. After drizzling that with some olive oil, you pour the soup on top of it and add some parmesan. Then you let it sit in the fridge over night. The next day, take it out and bring it to room temperature, then cook it, covered with foil, in a 375 oven for 40 minutes, then uncovered for another 5-10 minutes.

I have to be honest and say that I didn't know what to expect. It certainly seemed possible that it might not be very good. Baked leftover soup and stale bread? Hard to say whether it's a good idea or not.

But I should have trusted that Lynne Rosetto Kasper wouldn't steer me wrong. (Why else did I take her book The Italian Country Table out of the library every single fall for about 8 years in a row, simply for her multitude of tomato sauce recipes? After 8 years, I gave up . . . and just bought the damn thing.) I should have known that if she said that turning soup into a sort of casserole would be a good thing, it would be.

The resulting dish was savory and cheesy and tomato-y and good. The bread had soaked up all the liquid and was tasty rather than mushy. The orzo, though not traditional, was a nice addition. It turned out to be a fine way to use up a large container of soup I wasn't going to finish eating and 1/3 of a loaf of good bread that was too stale to eat (and, alas, probably even too stale to turn into bread crumbs.)

The only bad thing about this dish--it's not very photogenic. It would not be the thing you'd want to serve to impress someone with your prowess in making lovely food. It is, after all, leftover soup and stale bread dumped in a casserole together, and it looks like that. The taste, however, is more than the sum of its parts. Still, I brought my camera downstairs to take a picture and then changed my mind. A picture would not make anyone more likely to make it, and it's a dish I would encourage people to make.

Next time I make too much minestrone, I'm keeping this in mind. Or maybe, next time I make minestrone, I'll make too much on purpose so I can make this too.

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