While most of you are probably scrambling around looking for ways to use up the leftovers from Thanksgiving, I am slightly jealous, since I have nothing here to use up. Unlike some American holidays, which have been modestly successful in France, Thanksgiving is still uniquely American and it’s hard to explain the appeal of a day committed to overeating mediocre food that’s often, frankly, a bit weird looking at it from this side of the Atlantic.
So we had an anti-Thanksgiving, which involved lots of French pleasures, including an enormous, fragrant black truffle, lots and lots of icy flutes of Champagne, and a giant lobe of foie gras as well. But curiously, most of the Thanksgiving dinners here happen on Saturday night, since everyone works on Thursday.
Plus, if you invite a Parisian to any sort of dinner that starts before 8pm, they think you’re out of your mind.
In addition, I do derive a certain amount of pleasure out of explaining the day, and our traditional feast, to Parisians. A bit of gastronomic torture, if you will. For some reason I take a perverse delight in seeing their faces gradually change from curiosity, contorting into disbelieve as I describe mashed sweet potatoes covered with gooey, blackened marshmallows, or chopping up fresh, briny oysters and cramming them into a bird and cooking them for hours and hours.
So while everyone out there is thinking of ways to use up leftover turkey, which I don’t have (and there was no leftover truffles of foie gras), I’ve been thinking of ways this weekend to finally, once-and-of-all, use up another leftover around here.
About three years back, I sublet my apartment to a nice, young couple, one Australian and her Italian boyfriend. After a few months of travel, I returned to my apartment to find they’d left something behind, in a shiny blue box.
What was in that box is something that’s been vexing to me practically every day since my return: a half-box of dried Barilla lasagna noodles.
As many of you may recall, I have a problem with throwing things away. I can’t get rid of anything. Nothing gets tossed unless it’s furry.
Have an extra apple lying around? I buy a dozen more and make an apple tart. What? Throw out that quarter-cup of chocolate ganache? Spend the afternoon churning up a batch of chocolate ice cream studded with chocolate truffles.
(I still haven’t figured out what to do with that half-jar of dulce de leche from the brownies I made for my fish-boys, though. Any ideas?)
That thrift is definitely a trait I directly blame squarely on my mother, which she got from her mother. (When my grandmother died, two drawers in her kitchen were completely packed-full with metal twist-ties. Looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t save them since I’m sure they’d be a great addition to some crazy blog I should start devoted to twist-ties, or something like that.)
Anyhow…so I have this box with six or seven lasagna noodles in it, lingering for months in my cupboard. But after a while, I’m kinda tired of looking at them, moving the box around all the time which is always in the way and taking up valuable real estate in my cabinet. So I decide to make lasagna.
I do all the shopping, bringing home ricotta cheese and mozzarella. I make big batch of tomato sauce and chop up lots of spinach for the filling. Then layer everything into baking dishes. But wait. Back up. Keep going, back up a but further…to the shopping a bit. Since it’s a lot of work to make lasagna, I figured I outta make two lasagnas, and pop one in the freezer. So I buy an extra box of lasagna noodles as well.
The problem is, after I was done, I find that I have a few lasagna noodles left afterwards. While you may not think this is such a problem, it’s now gotten out of control and has been going on for a number of years. It’s the same thing and now repeats itself and it’s become an endless cycle of lasagna-making around here for the past few years.
So while all you folks out there are trying to figure out what to do with your turkey leftovers crammed in your fridge (which I, personally, would kill for) I’m once again stuck trying to figure out what to do with my few remaining lasagna noodles, which I’ve now dubbed my lasagna ‘culture’.
(If you’ve ever made yogurt or sourdough bread, you save a bit from the previous batch to inoculate the next batch, called the ‘culture’.)
While we’re on the subject of different cultures, when I explain the concept of people waking up at 4am the day after Thanksgiving to do their Christmas shopping (somehow vendredi noir, or Black Friday, will probably never become part of the French vernacular), and I get a lot of looks of disbelief. Somehow the idea of spending the night shivering on a freezing sidewalk for a videogame, or a doll, doesn’t have much appeal in Paris…although I do recall quite the line at Chanel during the promotion last January. But since it’s only November, and I don’t wear much Chanel, I needed to find something else to occupy my time around here. And I decided one and for all to be done with them and to finally finish up the last of the lasagna noodles.
So my Black Friday involved a special challenge: locating a Costco-sized container of ricotta, which I actually found, seeing as it would be a waste to use the very fancy, and rather pricy, artisanal stuff they sell in Italian specialty stores for my humble lasagna. (The size tub I did find would make a great item in case there’s ever a scavenger hunt here in Paris for unusual things like, say large tubs of food. Aside from the ricotta, with my 10-pound blocks of chocolate and my smuggled in American marshmallows, I’ve managed to stockpile an impressive array of industrial-sized items around here, which would blow away any of the competition.)
But to make up for my thrift (thanks again, mom…), I pick up six or so packages of good mozzarella as well. I bring them all home, then chop up beaucoup de spinach for the filling and grate a hefty wedge of Pecorino cheese into a bowl. I go to work, making sure everything gets layered into baking dishes, alternating homemade tomato sauce with the spinach filling, layering it all with various cheeses, then smoothing everything nicely into place, until I finally get to the top.
I look around.
I’ve successfully used up the huge batch of spinach-and-ricotta filling I assembled. Every slice of mozzarella the I sliced is gone. Not one drop of tomato sauce is left in the saucepan nor is there a single shaving of Pecorino cheese remaining in the bowl.
Nothing is left.