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A tale, as excerpted from “The Buried Life”:

“A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’”

I am the professor.

The jar is my fridge.

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A kindly yogurt company delivered the golf balls last week in the form of probiotic yogurt drinks, yogurt squeezers, and 10,000 containers of yogurt.

The pebbles are now the milk, fruit, meat, and other items that called this (formerly spacious) receptacle home. They have been displaced.

Plastic boxes of cherry tomatoes, jewel-like jars of anchovies, preserved lemons, sandwich bread, all pushed, prodded, wedged, and jammed until virtually no negative space remains. The fridge light has gone dim, covered by sprawling leek greens.

There is no room for sand.

While I’m grateful to my friend the yogurt company for this bountiful gift of dairy, I can’t make enough smoothies to free up the kind of space that I need back. The kind of space that wouldn’t require that I shift five items in order to replace a package of ham. The kind of space that prevents bread from molding because “look!” there’s some bread on that middle shelf. The kind of space doesn’t make me curse.

When putting the smoothie machine into overdrive isn’t the answer, you turn to tried and true methods: the leftover meal. Now here’s a trustworthy guy. He’s accepting of all friends – no matter the color, shape or state of disrepair. The wilting mushroom; the forgotten bundle of asparagus; the piece of cheese who’s sweating it out, racing towards his expiration date.

Leftover dishes are aplenty – I’ve made soups, lasagnas, and you should all know by now that I’ll throw anything into a skillet with soy sauce and call it fried rice.

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Last week I spotted my friend Ashley who writes the blog Local Haven making a spring-inspired panzanella…and that bee in a bonnet thing started to happen again.

I had some rosemary boule on hand – the kids mercifully weren’t hungry for carbs for dinner that evening, leaving me with half a loaf. Under the cloak of night (in other words 8:40PM), I tore my way through the remaining bread and let it dry overnight.

The Italians would have no tolerance for this. “Gran’ disgraziato! Fresh bread? Panzanella is for di stale bread” they might holler just before swatting me across the head with the back of their hardworking hands.

Which would be so disappointing since there’s nothing that I’d like to do more than please my ancestral Italian Nonnas.

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But when it means relieving your fridge of tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, prosciutto, parsley, radishes and lemons in one fell swoop…well, you can see where my allegiances lie.

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I encourage you to make this. Double the recipe, triple it even. You’ll want enough to feed a crowd, even if you’re preparing dinner for two. Throw it into that newly spacious fridge if you must. It’ll continue to soak up its flavors overnight and is transcendent when fried in a pan. While you’re at it, empty your fridge of a few eggs and serve it topped with some sunny sides. Those golf balls take up room. Now face the rest of your battles: the teensy butter pats, the stray green onions, the floating lemon half, the carton with three drops of cream. Spring is here, there is no better time. Onwards my friends, let’s do this.

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Grilled asparagus panzanella
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 cups of torn stale bread
  2. salt and pepper, to taste
  3. 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
  4. 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  5. ½ cup fresh mushrooms, any variety, but to get long strips, use an elongated mushroom like trumpets
  6. Juice from half a lemon
  7. 1 small bunch of asparagus, washed and woody ends snapped off
  8. ¼ cup torn prosciutto
  9. ¼ cup torn or chopped parsley leaves
  10. 2 radishes, thinly-sliced
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spread your bread cubes out on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt + pepper, and toast (stirring once in the middle of the baking process) until golden, approx. 8 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, add your tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine and then let the mixture sit for 30 minutes.
  4. While the tomato mixture is marinating, grill the asparagus. Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill on medium-high heat. When hot, add the asparagus, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top, tossing the asparagus frequently until they’re well covered in oil, and charred in places. Season with salt and cut into ½ inch pieces.
  5. Once the tomatoes have given up some of their juices, and the asparagus is ready, toss all of the ingredients together in the large bowl.
  6. Set aside for another 30 minutes, tossing every so often, so that the ingredients have a chance to meld flavors.
  7. When ready to serve, add the torn prosciutto and the parsley leaves along with the sliced radishes. Give the salad a toss and serve.
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