One of the realities of divorce, coupled with empty nest (and the variations you all might be living through), is leftovers.
Personally, I’m one of those people who adore leftovers. My favorite breakfast on Black Friday is the unheated dregs of Thanksgiving stuffing. And when I succumb to a Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready Pepperoni pizza dinner, I always make sure there is a slice, cold, for breakfast. And another, heated, for lunch.
“The two of us” is not the two that I foresaw in married life. I’m cooking for two, Mom and me. One of the frustrations of dementia is that I can spend a Sunday afternoon roasting garden vegetables and baking a plum tart for dinner, and faster than you can say “60 Minutes,” my mother is asking, “Did we eat yet?” One of the beauties of dementia is that I can serve those reheated roasted vegetables for dinner on Monday and Tuesday. While we’re eating, I hear comments like, “How did you learn to cook these things?” “Who gave you this recipe?” “This is really good.”
Scaling down is something I have trouble with, in the kitchen and the garden, and the garden in the kitchen. Why on earth I planted three prolific Green Zebra tomato plants for just the two of us is beyond my mother’s comprehension. For me, it is simple. Green Zebra is my favorite tomato and you never know when a groundhog, hail, or doom and destruction are going to wipe out a tomato plant.
“What are you going to do with all of these green tomatoes?” she asks. This is a day when I have four, yes, four, platters of ripe tomatoes lined up on the kitchen counter. I offer them to the caregivers, the repairmen, co-workers, couples who keep their golf carts in our barn. I start to empty a platter, and it is time to venture into the garden again. More tomatoes. More Green Zebra tomatoes. Why don’t the rabbits eat a few colorful tomatoes rather than nibbling ALL of my rainbow chard to mere nubs?
Last weekend I decided I had to do something. After all, it is HER kitchen. I sneak a few Green Zebras into our roasted heirloom tomato sauce and our basil-tomato tarts, but a totally green tomato sauce? Don’t think it would pass the Appealing-to-Mom test. For years I’ve read about tomato-bread salad and tomato-bread soup, but I just couldn’t get past the “yuck” factor of soggy bread. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“What are you going to do with all of these green tomatoes?” is annoying once or twice, but every time she paces through the kitchen?
With the intent of killing two quarts of Green Zebras with one stone, I select Frances Mayes’ Pappa al Pomodoro (bread with tomatoes) recipe from In Tuscany. I use it as a guide to create my own version with help from our pantry and leftovers.
I love artisan breads with their crusty shells and we’re lucky in State College and the Lemont Farmers Market to have Gemelli Bakers (You Knead Us is the catchy slogan on their trucks). My mother doesn’t like crusty breads, so I’m the sole eater of the Kalamata Olive Loaf and the Fennel-Golden Raisin Loaf. This isn’t a problem, except that I can never finish a loaf without the last portion going stale. So, I toss the leftovers in the freezer. Stale Fennel-Golden Raisin bread makes great French toast, but Kalamata French toast? I don’t think so.
As I read through the ingredients for Pappa al Pomodoro, I think, what better place for my leftover partial Kalamata loaves and my Green Zebras. I’m not a fan of tomato soup, but this is not Campbell’s. The hard crusts melt down so that even my mother doesn’t notice them, and it is a dish that gets better the next day, and the next, especially with a spritz of garlic-infused olive oil on Day Three.
Pappa al Pomadoro
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery and leaves, finely chopped
1 dozen multicolored baby carrots from the garden (or one large carrot), finely chopped
3 T. olive oil
8 slices Kalamata olive bread (or any crusty, artisan bread)
3-4 cups vegetable broth (plus water if needed, I used an additional cup)
10 Green Zebras and 4 red St. Pierre tomatoes, chopped and seeded
Small handful of sliced Kalamata (or good Italian) olives
20 basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Saute onion, celery and carrots in soup pot with olive oil. When tender, place bread (no need to thaw it beforehand) on top, add broth to cover the bottom of the pot and bring to boil. Break bread apart. Simmer at low heat. As bread absorbs broth, add two more cups of broth, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives.
(I must interject here that Frances’ recipe calls for 8 plum tomatoes. I substituted 10 Green Zebras. But the soup looked like khaki pants with grass stains—totally unappetizing—so I added four red tomatoes for better color. Next time, I would go heavy on the reds and use only a few Green Zebras for interesting color contrast. And, perhaps only plant two Green Zebra plants.)
Season with basil, salt and pepper, and simmer for about 5 more minutes. Serves 8 (or two with several leftover lunches and a dinner).
Not to Be Forgotten: September 14 Nonna became a great-grandmother (and I became a great-aunt). “I’ve always been a great grandmother,” was my mother’s humorous response shining through the cloud of dementia. Liam and Jessica are the proud parents of baby girl Finley Flanagan!
Leftover Quote: This might have been better with the last blog, traveling in search of ground cherries, but…it is here, now: “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller
Leftover Ground Cherries: My Amish farmers’ market friend brought me a QUART of ground cherries from her daughter’s garden. As I sit here, they are dehydrating on my virgin voyage with the dehydrator Richard gave me for Christmas. I hope to share ground chraisins with the kids over the holidays. So many memories, past and future, are all about food and family—even if a quart dehydrates down to two tablespoons of chraisins…