Whenever I go away for more than two nights, I try to use up what’s in the fridge. On Wednesday evening, I was to leave for a trip of over 4 days to Cologne. Since the milk would expire while I was away, a head of red cabbage was still lounging around in the veggie drawer after at least ten days, and the onions on the counter were sprouting, I got to work Wednesday afternoon, inadvertently preparing 2/3 of today’s lunch:
My first task was to whisk together a buckwheat crepe batter so it could rest for thirty minutes. Next, I chopped the red cabbage and readied it for fermentation. Then it was time to prepare an onion confit. Inspired by 3 different recipes that I had lying around, I came up with the following version.
Nearly 4 cups sliced onions
1 Tbs water
1/2 ts mixture of dried savory and thyme
1/2 ts salt
1 ts balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs white port wine or another wine
In a medium-sized pot, combine all ingredients and cook over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently.
That’s it. In retrospect, I could have let the onions darken and caramelize more, but I’m happy with the flavor. The confit actually looks a little bit like sauerkraut (see below right). I was pleased with how well the buckwheat crepes turned out because I always have issues when frying. There were even two left to take along on my journey as a snack.
I had hoped to sample regional specialties in Cologne, but my exposure to local foodways was limited to drinking Kölsch, the local ale, and eating thick white asparagus spears that had been boiled to death and put to rest in melted butter (the former a pleasant and the latter an unpleasant experience). Even my intent to tour a mustard mill dating back to 1810 was thwarted. Oh well, next time. It was still a good trip.
As you might expect, when you use up perishables before you leave, the cupboard appears to be awfully bare when you return. Yet there are often enough raw materials to spin straw into gold. I scanned the pantry and found a bag of chickpea flour (the only food we had brought back from Friuli that hadn’t been opened yet) and whipped up some socca, a pancake made of chickpea flour. It requires a scant four ingredients: chickpea flour, olive oil, salt, and water.
I first experienced the bliss of eating piping hot socca at the Christmas market in Nice and most recently enjoyed it at the Tuscan seaside under its aliases cecina or calda, calda. It can also be encountered in the wild along the Ligurian coast under the name of farinata.
125 g / 1 heaping cup chickpea flour
1/2 ts salt
250 ml/ 2 cups warm water
3 Tbs olive oil
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt, then add the warm water and whisk until thoroughly combined (no lumps). Add 1 Tbs oil. Let the batter rest at least 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°C / 480°F . Heat the rest of the oil in a 25 cm / 10″ cast-iron skillet for five minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven carefully. Pour the batter into the skillet and return to the oven. Bake 3-4 minutes, then turn on the grill or set the oven to just use top heat and bake for another 5-7 minutes. The socca should brown nicely, but pay attention that it doesn’t burn.
Serve hot with lots of ground black pepper.
I cut the socca into triangular slices using a pizza cutter and scarfed it down with a bit of the 6-day old red cabbage sauerkraut and the onion confit – yum! Readers, have you any stories to share of creative cooking with a nearly bare pantry, tales of successful experiments with what’s left in the fridge or on the counter?