More Ways with Bread

August 31, 2017
By Holly Jennings

Not an ounce of good taste is wasted in this house. Sesame seeds collected at the bottom of the paper bag that once held a loaf of sesame rye bread are saved and sprinkled on buttered and honeyed toast the next morning. The residue of mushroom liquor and butter clinging to the insides of a container that held sautéed mushrooms is freed with a splash of hot water and put into the service of a mushroom omelet.


I have to admit, I sometimes slip up and forget to be mindful; I forget to give that over-looked throw-away item a second life in my kitchen. When I do, I berate myself. But one type of missed taste opportunity that is never lost on me or my husband, Mike, are the remnants of dressing, sauce, or appetizing drippings in plates or bowls or pots or pans. A swipe of bread through these flavorful dregs becomes dessert (and if we’re out of bread, a spatula or index finger works).


At these savor-the-flavor moments, Mike often does the honors. He’ll rip off a piece of bread and run it through the serving bowl. Then, like a rooster finding the choicest bits of food for his favorite hen, he will hand it to me or put the morsel directly in my mouth. I am always touched by this gesture; perhaps it takes me back to my days in the high chair, when things really were very simple.


Earlier this summer, just after we arrived in France for a several-week stay, Odette Podevin, our French neighbor and my Patroness of Cooking, had us over for lunch. The first course was an especially flavorful tomato salad, served room temperature. (Later, I realized a key to the deliciousness of Odette’s tomato salad is timing: She makes it well enough in advance of serving to allow for an exchange of flavors—for the vinaigrette and chopped shallots and herbs to marinate the tomatoes and for the tomatoes to infuse the dressing.)

Bread on Odette and Roger’s dining table, at the ready for the mid-day meal.


Odette and her husband, Roger, are professional eaters; talk is sparse and they do not dally between courses. As soon as the tomatoes were cleared from the serving platter and our plates, Odette brought the main course to the table: a creamy casserole of endive en jambon gratinée (endive and ham gratin). By that point, all of us except Mike had mopped our plates clean, enjoying the last bits of the tasty vinaigrette with pieces of bread torn from a baguette. (Mike told me later he forwent the pleasure of mopping to avoid filling up on bread, anticipating, from past experience, the huge portions of food Odette divvies up, especially to her American “son.”)


Impatient to serve the dish, Odette tore off a piece of bread, reached over, and mopped up the remaining vinaigrette on Mike’s plate. Mike and I shot each other a knowing glance; knowing Odette to be warm and generous and spontaneous, we imagined her next move would be to hand the prized morsel to Mike, like a doting mother hen. Instead, she paused for a split second, as if considering what to do with the sauced piece of bread in her hand, then shrugged and unceremoniously cast it aside on the table, with a half-smile. (I think Odette takes secret pleasure in these small renegade acts.) She immediately placed an enormous portion of the main dish on Mike’s plate.


This made a forcible impression on me. Here was a whole new use for bread. Why bother to wash plates between courses when you can use bread “to clean” the plates. It saves resources—water and soap—and time and effort. Bread is indispensable to the French meal in more ways than I’d considered.


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P.S. Here is a photo showing yet more ways with bread.

Odette, gesturing with bread in an animated conversation with Mike, her American fils (son). Roger, her husband, can be seen in the background, in the kitchen.

4 Comments to “More Ways with Bread”

  1. Oh, so thoughtful & splendid! I’ll translate this for Odette, too, although haven’t had further comment on the 1st batch–hope she grasped the translation. In any event, hope all is well with you and Mike in the USA. And, speaking of using every morsel–what does one do with the tops of leeks?

  2. Thank you Lauri for you compliments. I’m lucky to have you as a reader, and for being our on-the-ground translator for Odette. I’ve got another Odette-themed story brewing. So torn between my love of French cooking and Southern cooking. Succotash has been calling my name lately, too. What to do with tops of leeks–well, perhaps using them to make stock. That’s not very inventive, but it’s the first thing that comes to my mind. If you come up with something more interesting, let me know.

  3. Becket Franklin says:

    Odette reminds me of Rose (Olympia Dukakis) in Moonstruck- frying up some eggs in thick slabs of bread for Loretta (Cher) who is mooning over the very delicious bread maker, Ronnie Cammereri (Nicholas Cage).

  4. You mean the scene when Rose makes what some call “toad in the hole”? I agree. Very memorable. That earthy food scene stuck me, too, and it inspired me to make eggs exactly the same way (particularly on mornings after having had the extra glass I shouldn’t have had . . .). And Rose and Odette are both such lovely old-fashioned-sounding names.


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