It has been a busy couple of weeks since I was last able to shop for food. Good-busy, with lots of eating out and seeing friends, but bad-busy in the sense that a lot of food was left to languish in my kitchen and go from gloriously fresh to borderline rotten. Actually, much of the food, like the moldering eggplant and the fuzzy-topped tomato sauce, went over that borderline a while back. What’s left is a sad assortment of browning fennel, unappetizing bits of cheese, wilted tetragon salad (New Zealand spinach), stale bread, a lone hothouse tomato that remains untouched by time (which in itself, is a little scary) and a whole lotta eggs and milk which I’d planned on baking with before LIFE got in the way.

In other words…my favorite kind of food to cook! I love nothing more than making something out of (what appears to be) nothing. For me, the planning part is the real fun, akin to getting both a double letter and triple word score on a seven-tile Scrabble play as you fit all the elements together into one beautiful (and hopefully tasty) whole. Here’s my strategy (in prep order) for turning today’s assortment of almost-undesirables into something worth eating.

Tetragon salad: Despite its two weeks in the fridge, I should be able to revive the leaves by giving them a good, long soak in some cold water. This is a wonderful trick to know about. Lots of lettuces will spring back to life after a 30-minute cold water bath.

Stale Bread: Soaking it with some eggs, milk, garlic, and herbs (Dried tarragon…the fresh herbs I had hit the garbage along with the eggplant) for a savory French toast should give it a new life.

Tomato: It looks totally fine and will taste totally mediocre. I’m gonna dice it, season it with salt, pepper, onion, and spice (a small shake of cayenne or chipotle), then add it to the tetragon salad.

Fennel: Brown it and lightly braise it to bring out what’s left of its flavor.

Cheese: Cut off the moldy bits and grate it to melt on top of the French-toasted bread.

And just look at how it all turned out!

tetragon new zealand spinach savory french toast tartine

See how firm the lettuce got? See how juicy the tomato became? And omigosh, the French toast treatment transformed that bread that had gotten too hard for toast! I could have eaten it plain, but the fennel and melted cheese made it more of a meal.

The only thing left was to give the dish a name: Savory French Toast Tartines with Braised Fennel and Spiced Tomato Salad. Makes it sound pretty fancy, huh? And it totally disguises the dish’s humble origins.

The chances of your having the exact same leftover items in the fridge as these are pretty slim, but I’ve written out the recipe so that it can be made with peak-of-freshness food as well. Or better still, use it as inspiration for your own leftover creations.

Finally…yay. I can go back to the market tomorrow and stock up on gorgeous produce once more. Good timing….there’s really, truly, absolutely nothing left in the fridge now.

Savory French Toast Tartines with Braised Fennel and Spiced Tomato Salad

Braised Fennel
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh fennel, cut lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices
pinch sugar, optional

Spiced Tomato Salad
1 small tomato, diced
Pinch salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper or ground chipotle chile
2 cups tetragon or baby spinach leaves
olive oil, for drizzling

French Toast Tartines
2 eggs
½ cup milk
1 small clove garlic, minced (1/2 tsp.)
½ tsp. dried tarragon, optional
1/8 tsp. salt
pinch pepper
2 large slices stale French or sourdough bread
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 eggs, poached or cooked mollet-style (6 minutes in boiling water) and peeled, optional

To make the Braised Fennel: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the fennel slices and the sugar, if using, season with salt, and sear 3 to 4 minutes, or until deep brown. Flip the fennel slices with tongs, and sear 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup water to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until the fennel is very tender. Set aside.

To make the Tetragon-Tomato Salad. Toss the diced tomato with the salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl, and set aside 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.

To make the French Toast Tartines: Whisk together 2 eggs, milk, and garlic in a shallow baking dish. Crumble the tarragon with your fingers, and whisk it into the egg mixture with the salt and pepper. Place the bread slices in the egg mixture, and let them soak 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally, or until they are so soft they almost fall apart.

Rub a large skillet with olive oil, and heat over medium heat. Add the soaked bread slices, and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden brown. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet. Top each slice with fennel, then sprinkle with grated cheese. Broil 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

Meanwhile, toss together the tetragon and the seasoned tomatoes, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve the tartines with the Tetragone-Tomato Salad and a poached egg atop each, if desired. Serves 2