One of the things I love most of living in a (small) city is that I can do 90% of my grocery shopping at mom-and-pop shops in (motivated) walking distance from my house. We have found dried chiles that I never knew existed at the Latin American grocery and the chorizo they make there is stuffed in real intestine. The Chinese fish market sold us the freshest, sweetest, most tender white fish I have ever eaten—and I have no clue what it is called. Even though I had to bone it, it was absolutely worth the effort. The Italian grocery stores we frequent sell beautiful produce, meat choices like ground lamb and wild boar sausage, and a selection of European chocolates, cheeses, cookies, coffees, and fresh pasta that leaves me utterly weak in the knees. And I love that the market next to the wine store will sell me one carrot or a piece of celery for 25 cents if I am short on mirepoix and don’t have the heart to buy a whole bag.
The trouble, as we food lovers know, is that these places are like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin. You go in there for one thing, and you come out with…three bags full. Somehow, ‘I need a good hunk of parm’ turns into ‘Oooh, look at these figs!’ and ‘What about this broccoli raab?’ or ‘My life might change if I can have this triple crème cheese.’
This week, I committed the most egregious of all sins. I went grocery shopping at the Italian market on Thursday, allowed myself a few indulgences like artisan bread and delicate produce, and then promptly left for a long weekend. (I know, it’s horrible.) I felt like a child who begged for a brand new toy, loved it in the car on the way home form the store, and then left it in the backseat for a sad, Velveteen Rabbit-like fate (minus the whole coming to life thing.)
When we got back to my apartment on Sunday night, the lovely, crusty bread had gone waaaay stale in its rustic paper sack, and the produce was languishing in the crisper. Two years ago, I might have tossed the whole lot and ordered pizza, but not anymore! If my mom is the patron saint of lost food, then Tony is well on his way to canonization.
So, we cracked a bunch of eggs (the ones I got from the roadside stand!) whisked them together with whole milk and hot sauce, fried up a couple pieces of bacon, chopped and sautéed all the limp vegetables (yes…in the drippings), grated some expiring pepper jack cheese, and tore the stale bread into pieces. A great tip I learned from Tony: if you microwave stale bread for a few seconds, you can rip it up more easily—but you’ve got to work quickly because it hardens up again fast. We layered it all into a 9 x 13, covered it, and went to bed. The next day we had effortless, incredibly delicious strata, (to be enjoyed in small portions with a side of salad!), and my refrigerator and my conscience were cleared.
My sad, expired purchases actually did come back to life in this warm, crispy-outside-tender-inside casserole—I guess they had Velveteen ending after all.