What a weekend. Remember that potluck I was supposed to go to on Friday? Well, it turned out I had a sick kid. So that meant my giant baking pan of polenta and I had to stay home.
The problem is that the kids hate polenta, which is why I make it for potlucks. So after cooking one dinner, I had to go out and get ingredients for the other. Actually, that part wasn’t so bad. It was a Friday night dinner, and our Friday night meal has been pretty much identical for years. Roast chicken, sauteed stringbeans, challah, and butter.
I could put that meal together in my sleep. Although I do lean heavily on the store’s rotisserie chicken. Still, I do doctor it up a bit by crisping the skin under the broiler. Man, that makes the skin so good. What can I tell you, I’m a skin lover. And actually, this past Friday, I went back to my old pre-diet ways and made myself a chicken skin sandwich on challah.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of it.
The story I want to tell today isn’t about convenience cooking. Rather, it’s about cooking as a way to turn potentially wasted scraps into a delicious dinner. It’s also all about Schenectady.
Weeks ago, I went to Perreca’s for a large round loaf of the bakery’s famous bread. The truth is that we don’t eat a lot of bread made from white flour in the Fussy household. So while it was a real treat to enjoy that bread with some incredible olive oil, procured from The Cheese Traveler, I didn’t finish the loaf.
Old bread doesn’t go bad. It just dries out. I suppose it could get moldy. But my plan was to let the Perreca’s loaf dry out and then use it for bread crumbs.
This made Mrs. Fussy deeply uncomfortable. Not only was this counter clutter, but it also had the potential for mold. Mrs. Fussy seems to have a strange and deep revulsion towards mold. In her defense, she insists she doesn’t.
Fast forward to last Friday night.
The polenta I was making for the potluck had two special features. It was topped with diced tomatoes, and it was stuffed with seasoned ricotta. The cheese I use comes from Cappiello’s in Schenectady.
There was only one problem. When I was seasoning the cheese, I totally oversalted it. Classic overtired move. I put in a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon. It happens. It sucks. But it happens.
So, how could this ricotta blend be saved?
Easy. If something is over salted, you bulk it up with other ingredients. Eggs are great flavor sucks, so I added a beaten one of those. I also grated in a bunch of Parm-Reg, and used as many dried herbs as I could get away with. Then I studded the polenta a bit more sparsely than usual.
The good news is that the polenta dish came out tasting great, even with the aggressively seasoned cheese. The corrections worked, and the dish was saved.
The bad news was that I was left with a bunch of leftover seasoned ricotta.
I was also left with the tomato puree from the can of plum tomatoes.
Looking over at the stale Perreca’s bread, I had an idea. Strata.
That’s a dish that’s made from bread soaked in eggs and cheese. And I thought, why not? So I chopped up the remaining loaf into little bits, and mixed them into a blend of the tomato puree and the seasoned ricotta.
After about 48 hours in the fridge, I oiled a small baking pan, pressed the goo into an even layer, and topped it all off with some Cappiello mozzarella. Casa Visco tomato sauce is the only thing that would have made this more of a Schenectady dish.
Now that I know it was a success, next time I might just do that.
Because after sitting in a 350 degree oven for a while, the cheese on top caramelized and bubbled. The interior came together in a soft, savory, and wheaty harmony. And slices, which could be eaten either with a fork and knife or out of hand, came cleanly out of the pan.
Man, I hate food waste, and I’m so happy that this little experiment worked out. Of course, the kids didn’t like this one either. And while Mrs. Fussy enjoyed it, the refined wheat flour means that I’ll be eating the lion’s share of the leftovers.
But that’s okay. This was delicious. I don’t mind at all. And I was thrilled to come up with something Schenectady-centric, especially after judging the downtown Schenectady Chili Chowdown on Saturday. I had hoped to pick up the mozzarella for this dish at Cappiello’s on Broadway, but I had to grab a brick of it at Stewart’s instead.
Which, by the way is where the egg came from too. And, for that matter, the ricotta. So perhaps this should be the Stewart’s Strada. If only you could get great bread at this regional convenience store. Oh man. If Stewart’s started carrying Perreca’s bread? Now that would be awesome indeed.
How do we get that to happen?