Harrington: Turn gifts into meals

Rosalie's ham quiche (Rosalie Harrington)

Nothing makes me happier than reworking, restyling, resurfacing, or redesigning anything — that is, giving new life to something old. This past weekend, I had more than one opportunity to exercise that recycling muscle.

It was close to 15 years ago that we bought a few wonderful pieces of furniture. One is a love seat that has been center stage in the living room, so it gets tons of use as a “nap seat” or “television viewing seat,” but we still call it a love seat — wishful thinking on my part! Given its age, it’s been looking a bit tired, so I was excited when I finally got in the mood to attack it over the weekend, eager to strip off the slipcover and see what could be done to bring it back to life.

How delightful it was, when the cover was removed, to discover that the slip cover had been hiding a lovely white fabric all these years. The slipcover went straight into the wash in case we decide to reuse it, or perhaps we’ll make a new slipcover, but the newly uncovered fabric has us feeling that we have a brand new piece of furniture with no effort, or finances, invested.

This instinct to reconfigure what you have rather than buying something new is a big part of my approach to food, too. It is so satisfying to rework recipes that I have enjoyed over the years, perhaps using some new ingredients that are popular right now or finding new approaches so the old favorites meet the needs of people on restricted diets. But over the past couple of weeks, the post-holiday challenge has been how to remake some of the food gifts that aren’t things we’re likely to eat.

Panettone, the lovely, dome-shaped sweet Italian bread that is so delicious toasted with butter, was once a specialty item. Back in the day, you had to go into the North End of Boston to buy one, and they were pricey. I was tempted to splurge on a gorgeously wrapped, imported one at Formaggio Kitchen, a wonderful and ridiculously expensive cheese shop in Cambridge, shortly before Christmas this year. But the $37 price tag was tough to justify, especially considering that at some of the local supermarkets, lower end versions were selling in the $10 or $11 range, and those prices got discounted even further as the holiday approached. So we passed on investing in the panettone, but we did enjoy some of the tasting offerings that are always available, then left with only a nice loaf of bread.

While we left Formaggio without an overpriced panettone, we did buy three of the less fancy ones at the supermarket that ended up still in the house after the holidays. So, the challenge was, what to do with them? I sliced one in 20 pieces and put it in a Tupperware container that went into the freezer. We have been enjoying the slices toasted with our coffee in the morning. Another panettone went into a bread pudding. I cut up half of it into bite-sized pieces, about three cups, and placed them in the bottom of a Pyrex casserole dish with a very generous sprinkle of brown sugar. Next, four eggs were beaten with vanilla and two cups of milk and a cup of heavy cream, and that mixture was poured over the panettone. I let it soak so it could absorb the moisture before baking it at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. The dried fruits hidden in the panettone really taste delicious in the bread pudding. Great with a dribble of maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream. Sweet breads like this also are great to use for French toast.

When I was young, my mother always prepared her ham with a generous brushing of mustard and brown sugar mixed together. She scored the ham into diamond shapes and then let me place cloves where the diamonds met. She dipped drained canned pineapple into some more mustard and brown sugar with a little melted butter and then I would decorate the top of the ham with the slices. I thought I was a real chef doing that!

With a feeling of nostalgia for my mother, I prepared a large ham this Christmas. I still had about a half the ham left so I cut up big slices and gave them to the grandkids as breakfast treats to take home and the rest of it I put in the freezer. During the week I made a pea soup which I garnished with some of the ham from the freezer. This morning, the ham made an appearance in a quiche made delicious by its smoky sweetness (recipe follows). I tried oat milk in the quiche and it made a very good substitute for regular milk.

The duck that I made as a special meal on a recent weekend was a big hit. And those leftovers were delicious on open-faced sandwiches with the gravy I made from the giblets. We especially loved the soup created from the carcass, made especially tasty with some homemade garlic croutons. After the soup simmered for a few hours, I strained the broth and replaced the cooked and soft carrot, celery and root veggies to make the soup more colorful and fresh. I made small slices of the vegetables and simmered them in the broth until barely tender because it’s also nice to have some crunch.

There were more sweets we couldn’t allow ourselves to eat. Cookies! Biscotti! Auntie Carolyn’s molasses cookies! Chocolate chip cookies! So many kind people trying to capitalize on our lack of discipline. Why not fool them and use those various flavors and textures to make some unique crusts for pies like key lime, and chocolate or banana cream. In place of regular crust, make a crumb bottom. Place the cookies in the food processor with a little sugar to sweeten, (yielding 1½ cups or so of crumbs is a good amount) and melted butter until you can pinch the crumbs and they stick together. You can also add nuts if you like and pulse with the crumbs until you have a nice texture. Spray a little oil on the pie plate and sprinkle the crumbs in the middle, gently pushing enough of the mixture to cover the bottom and up the side of the plate about an inch. Press gently. If you like you can pre-bake the crumbed pie plate in a preheated oven for five minutes and then let them cool before proceeding with filling.


Ham quiche for breakfast, lunch or dinner

Make a pie dough:

  • In food processor pulse 1½ cups of flour with ½ tsp. salt.
  • Cut up a stick of butter into eight pieces and add to the processor.
  • Pulse a few seconds to combine.
  • Add 1 tbsp. of Crisco and pulse to combine until it resembles coarse cornmeal.
  • Chill 4½ tbsp. ice water and with machine running pour the water into the hole at the top of the machine.
  • As soon as the dough begins to form stop the machine. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
  • In the meantime, cut up leftover baked ham. About 2 to 3 cups is good.
  • In a large bowl mix three eggs and one yolk with 2 scant cups of milk and ¾ cup of half-and-half or heavy cream, 1 tsp each. salt and Dijon mustard. Beat well to mix.
  • In a sauté pan heat a little oil or butter and add 3 tbsp. chopped scallion and sauté for a few minutes.
  • Remove dough from fridge and roll out to cover a 9- to 10-inch pie plate and flute the edge. Prick with a fork all around.
  • Brush the dough with Dijon mustard and cut or grate several chunks of cheese like Gruyère, cheddar, and Swiss cheese, about 2 cups, and sprinkle on top of dough.
  • Add the ham and scallions and distribute evenly over the dough. Gently pour the egg-milk-cream mixture over the cheese and ham. (I use Oatly or LACTAID for my lactose intolerance.)
  • Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake until the egg mixture is set and the dough turns a nice light golden color. Allow to set before cutting.
  • Make and bake a day or two ahead and it will be delicious either way. Serve with fresh fruit for breakfast or a green salad for lunch. Enjoy and happy new year with lots of love.

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