One of the pleasures of an empty-nest household is the home cook’s ability to spin off multiple meals from a limited amount of raw ingredients.
With a little creativity, you can transform a simple dish of Sauteed Shrimp into a shrimp salad the next day, or take a Roast Pork Tenderloin and resurrect it as a Red Flannel Pork Hash or Pork Stir Fry with Vegetables.
This is the philosophy behind Judith Jones’ trusty little cookbook, “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), which was recently nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award.
“I never get bored with my leftovers,” Jones wrote in the first chapter. “To me they are like treasures in the fridge that inspire me to do something imaginative as I play with accents from different cuisines.”
Jones is the editor and vice president of Alfred A. Knopf, and although she has written several cookbooks, she is best known for her role in introducing Julia Child, along with Lidia Bastianich, Madhur Jaffrey, Scott Peacock and a host of other famous cookbook authors, to the U.S.
Her chapter on “The Magic of Eggs – and the Seduction of Cheese” provides inspiration for dishes showcasing the simple pleasures of spring, from Shirred Egg with Chicken Liver to Steamed Eggs Nestled in a Bed of Greens.
For a spring brunch dish, I recently made Jones’ recipe for Strata, a savory vegetable custard studded with asparagus and ham and a bit of bread left over from a day-old baguette. It would be a great way to use up any leftover Easter ham and asparagus you might have, tucked away in the fridge.
“I put everything into a 1½ cup ceramic baking dish that has a 4 ½-inch diameter and it fills the dish, coming out of the oven puffing and lightly tanned,” Jones writes. “I eat it right from the dish as soon as it has cooled long enough not to burn my tongue.”
Strata: A Savory Custard
About ½ cup stale bread, torn in small pieces, any tough crusts removed
¼ cup milk
A slice of ham, enough to fill the bottom of the dish (leftover baked ham is particularly good here)
A little soft butter
3 spears cooked asparagus
1 large egg
½ cup mixture of milk and cream or half-and-half
Freshly ground pepper
A couple of fresh sage leaves or fresh basil torn (optional)
About 1 generous tablespoon grated cheese, Parmesan or aged Cheddar or Swiss
Put the bread in a bowl with the milk to soak for about 5 minutes, and then squeeze it through your fingers to dissolve the crumbs in the milk.
Meanwhile, place the ham on the bottom of a single-portion buttered baking dish and lay the asparagus spears, cut in half, over the ham. Salt lightly. Beat the egg with the milk-cream mixture, add a little salt and freshly ground pepper, and pour that over the asparagus. Arrange optional sage leaves on top and sprinkle on the grated cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Let settle for a few minutes out of the oven before you dive in.