The Florentines are great at doing leftovers. Whether it’s getting creative with the unwanted parts of animals or reusing last night’s dinner, many of Florence’s most famous dishes are based on the concept of recooking leftovers and not wasting any food. Soups such as Ribollita and Pappa al Pomodoro or the summery bread salad, Panzanella, have yesterday’s stale bread at the heart of their recipes. There are also countless dishes that use leftover meat in various ways, rifatte (“done again”). Ribollita is probably my favourite of the Florentine leftover meals, a traditional winter peasant dish whose recipe goes back centuries. Artusi (the great-grandfather of Italian cooking) even adds at the end of his ribollita recipe from 1891, “it’s good hot, but even better cold,” implying that this is the ultimate leftovers meal.
Stale bread features in peasant dishes from other cultures too, especially where bread itself is a staple. Another of my favourite uses for leftover bread is the centuries-old British tradition of bread and butter pudding, known as whitepot to the Tudors. Around Christmas time our house is filled with excess mounds of leftover Panettone, a large, brioche-like cake studded with candied peel and dried fruit, and perfumed with vanilla. Originally from Milan, the Panettone has made its way into the hearts of families all over Italy these days and there’s usually one or two spare lying around even after the holidays. They do keep well and can last months, but you can get sick of eating Panettone until February. So what I like to do to mix things up a bit is make a bread and butter pudding with Panettone. It’s perfect for those cold post-holiday days when you’re in need of a bit of indulgence.
Instead of the traditional stale bread and butter combo, thick slices of leftover Panettone spread generously with Nutella on each side go down very well (for those with nut allergies, simply a bit of butter or a quality orange marmalade is gorgeous too). Arrange the slices in a deep dish, overlapping slightly, then pour over a mixture of 3 beaten eggs, about 350 ml of milk (or half pouring cream for real gluttons) and just ¼ cup of sugar. The slices will soak up the liquid and puff up when cooking so make sure the dish is not filled more than ¾ or you’ll be left with a lot of oven cleaning to do! Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 20 minutes covered lightly with foil, and then uncovered for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and puffy. Serve with a big smile and a craving for something rich and sweet!