One memorable Thanksgiving, I spent hours trying to describe modern American traditions to a room full of Italians. A feast without a festival was mystifying.
“There is a parade in every village, si?” one colleague asked. “No? Well, do you all dress up as these pilgrims? Or travel to where the first feast took place?”
Remembering Sheridan’s turkey trot, I was able to appease the group with photos of friends wearing turkey hats paired with earmuffs.
Finally, we dove into the feast — something my colleagues could understand. Our meal was untraditional but unforgettable: plates and plates of prosciutto, cheese, pasta, marinated vegetables and more fresh bread than we could eat.
The next day, I was amazed by the simple, delicious dishes my colleagues made with our leftovers by using the day-old bread as a building block. They were following the Italian culinary tradition at its best. In more frugal times in central Italy, bread was baked only once a week, so families had to find creative ways to get the most out of each loaf.
This year, you can adjust these old tricks to transform your delicious leftovers. Below are a few of the tastiest ways to channel your inner Italian after Thanksgiving.
1. Crostini are the easiest ways to enjoy bread that is one to two days old. Simply toast a few slices in the oven at 400 degrees until golden, drizzle with good olive oil and top with other tasty Thanksgiving leftovers. (Swoon: cranberry crostini with mozzarella.)
2. Panzanella is a classic Tuscan salad that calls for bread that is two to four days old. Place your stale bread in a bowl of water. While the bread soaks, prepare any veggies and greens you have on hand. A classic combination includes tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and basil, but leftover Thanksgiving salad totally counts. When the bread is soft, squeeze out as much water as possible, and break it into small pieces. Add to the salad, mix in a dressing of equal parts extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Toss, adjust seasoning as needed and dig in!
3. Ribollita is a “reboiled” soup so thick that Italians eat it with a fork instead of a spoon. Perfect for the weekend after Thanksgiving, the recipe works with the crunchiest of crunchy bread. Stir up a pot of garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, potatoes, zucchini, greens, tomatoes — you name it. Finally, when the vegetables are very tender, add the bread and simmer until it breaks apart and ties the soup together.
Trust me: You will not feel guilty about having leftover bread after Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy the holiday tomorrow, and keep it going all weekend long.