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Rambling around a bread challenge

"the satisfaction of one answer merely leads to asking another question, and so on into infinity." Alberto Manguel

David bought this loaf from Woolworths the other day - well last week some time. I have no idea why. If I'm a tiny bit unkind I would say it was a bargain - marked down. I know he was buying bread because he didn't feel like making any and for some weird reason he's a fan of Woolworths. He is also a fan of marked down bread - well marked down anything really. But then again, aren't we all? Me? Well for some things, but not bread, because to me it signifies that it's already going stale. Mind you this remained fresh for several days - which actually makes me rather suspicious. 'Real' bread goes stale remarkable quickly. I mean think about baguettes. The French have two bakes a day because the morning baguette is already too stale for dinner.

Anyway, this loaf was also a multi-grain - very multi-grain. Chock full of various seeds. I did try valiantly to have it for lunch - at first fresh and then toasted but it wasn't a favourite. And so it seems for David too, for today he has given me the bread challenge. Do something with it.

Well I know I've done leftover bread before, so I'm not going to go through all the potential options again. Indeed, having considered them all I have decided that they all rather clash with my previously intended meal for today - omelette - a loaded omelette that I suppose is more like what we now know as frittata, although I have been making this kind of thing for years and years - based on a Spanish omelette I suppose. But I'm wandering again.

I also didn't feel like any of those cleverer things - I think the bread is just too intensely seedy for one thing. I did briefly consider Ottolenghis green bread pudding that I have written about before, but I think it's too seedy for that too, and besides I'm feeling lazy, so in the end I decided I would make some flavoured croutons, then have some either in or with the omelette and freeze the rest for future use. Bread challenge done and dusted and nothing more to say on the subject.

However, before I landed on the crouton solution I thought I would have another look at what to do with leftover bread in case I had missed something amazing that could tempt me. And I came across A'ja, also an Ottlenghi thing, although the recipe and this picture are from Kitchn. It's Ottolenghi's recipe though. Fundamentally you make a batter with breadcrumbs, herbs, spices, eggs, feta and pecorino too I think, and fry into sort of pancakes or even mini omelettes.

"The basic formula is simply soaked bread + eggs + oniony thing + herbs/spices + other veges if you want, or even some crumbled feta. Go nuts." Two Spoons

It comes from his book Jerusalem, and he does say you could make it into one large fritter too. So, in a way, not that far from my planned meal for tonight. And they do look nice, although not exactly a meal. Maybe if you had a sauce to go with them and a salad too.

"He also suggests using any other grated vegetables instead of bread, such as zucchini and sweet potato. And spice them up however you like: “Tunisians, for instance, add chopped mint and crushed garlic.”

And, indeed another reader of Jerusalem - the author of the blog Two Spoons took that advice and made Baked green fritters. Looks like she was dealing with some unpromising bread too. She also baked hers when she got bored of frying them. I guess you could also add scraps of something meaty - like bacon or ham, even chicken. Which is probably straying rather a long way from the original thought. One thing leads to another - which seems to be the emerging theme of this post.

For the interesting thing about the recipe was what Ottolenghi said in his introduction in the book:

“This Tripolitan version is one among endless kinds of vegetable or herb-based bread fritters and omelets that are rife all over [Jerusalem]. This is convenience food at its best, ready to be stuffed inside a pita and put in a lunch box, or prepared as a quick “solution” for a light meal using leftover bread and seasonal vegetables. It may not sound appetizing, but taste it once, and you will see what it’s all about.”

There are actually two interesting things about it. The first is that word 'Tripolitan' which I assumed meant from Tripoli. That's the capital of Libya isn't it? Well when I started investigating Tripolitan cuisine I found several sites that referred to it as Lebanese - because (I had forgotten) there is also a Tripoli in Lebanon. Lebanon's second city in fact. Which sounded a more likely source. I mean what has Libya got to do with Jerusalem? But no - in the introduction to Jerusalem, Ottolenghi talks about his father - who is Italian Jewish - in relation to Tripoli in Libya - which was ruled by the Italians at the beginning of the twentieth century. So then I thought perhaps his father had grown up in Libya. But no - actually in Israel I think - I now believe it was Ottolenghi's grandparents who actually come from Italy. But whatever - the Tripoli Ottolenghi is referring to is the Libyan one - although I'm still not quite sure what the connection is if his family did not live there.

Along the way as I looked into his Italian heritage and to try and find a link to Libya, I found a couple of interesting Ottolenghi facts that I did not know - well three actually - none of which have got anything to do with the topic at hand, but which illustrate the dictum that 'one thing leads to another.' The first is very sad, in that a brother was killed whilst doing his Israeli National Service - by friendly fire! How awful is that? Ottolenghi himself worked in Intelligence whilst doing his National Service.

Also interesting - at Tel Aviv University after a Bachelor's degree in comparative literature he did a Master's thesis on the philosophy of the photographic image. Such a long way from a career as a cook, but such an interesting subject. Very ivory tower stuff, that I suspect my husband and probably at least my younger son, would scoff at. He went to London, where, as a kind of sideline to a journalistic job he did a Cordon Bleu course as a pastry chef and was so enamoured of that he began working as a pastry chef in various well established and reputable London restaurants. And the rest is history. Pastry chef though. You don't think of Ottolenghi as a pastry chef do you?

But that particular ramble was not leading anywhere and so I went back to the topic in hand at the time - bread fritters.

The second thing from that introduction was the reference to "endless kinds of vegetable or herb-based bread fritters and omelettes". I'm a bit intrigued by this because when I looked up that name - 'A'ja' - I found not a single other recipe for anything with that name. Various people, like the two I have mentioned, referred to the Ottolenghi recipe but there was nobody else's version. I had thought that it must be a typical Jerusalem dish. That's what he made it sound like. However, all I found under A'ja was that it is a girl's name - there is a famous basketballer and various other people - but there doesn't seem to be a traditional dish. So has Ottolenghi - or Sami Tamimi - made up the name? Now I'm not doubting him on the fact that there are other fritters, but I am on whether there are any called A'ja.

So then I started searching under 'bread fritters' and here I did better.

The first one I found was an Indian version - an outlier this one, because I'm not at all sure that this is a typical Indian thing and I didn't find any more. Their bread is a kind of a fritter in itself, and they do have fritters which are basically fried bread dough - and indeed other cultures also have fritters that are just fried dough of one kind or another. Not of relevance here though as we are looking at what to do with stale bread. Anyway these are called Bread pakoda, bread fritters from a lady called Tarla Dalal.

Nothing from the Jews - I was clutching at straws a bit there, so I went back to the Italians who have heaps. Here are just a few: Bread fritters/Giallo Zafferano; Polpette di pane/Sophie in Puglia - the author of this one had come across it in a Puglian restaurant where a group of men shared their antipasti polpette with her telling her that "The secret, he confided as his friends raised a glass to me, was to use half as much cheese as bread." There are two pictures of this - the ones she made herself and some made by her neighbour, whose son is showing them off. Do not use Cheddar she says - it's too greasy. Finally from Italy Polpette di ricotta/Solo Dolce which are similar I suppose - but different cheese and therefore different texture.

Notably perhaps the Italians seem to prefer a round shape rather than a flat one. One of those authors suggested using them instead of meatballs in a tomato sauce.

That round shape made me think of bread gnocchi and the occasional use of the word 'dumplings' instead of 'fritters'. Which brought back a memory of Capunsei - long, thin gnocchi that I had enjoyed at a restaurant in the Lombardy countryside between Mantua and Lake Guarda. They looked exactly like this, which might seem a little unprepossessing but they were utterly delicious. That was such a lovely place - the restaurant - Le Quattro Gatte (the four cats) and the amazingly beautiful B&B that we were staying in. I used a photograph of me in that restaurant for the previous version of this blog:

Then I started dreaming about holidays past and maybe to come ...

Not what to do with a leftover half loaf of bread at all. I thought this particular post was going to be very brief, but I don't seem to be able to stop my brain rambling from one thing to another. Which is why this blog is called Rosemary's Ramblings.

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