A Page Outta: Cupcake Lasagna Leftovers

I told you I was going to do this. The last installment of A Page Outta is a perfect example of why the leftovers element is so important. Recipes are great and all, but they all too frequently ask that you do inexplicably stupid things.

Some recipes ask that you make a quart of sauce, when all you'll actually be using is a few tablespoons. Sure, that can pretty reasonably be explained away by issues of scale. It's actually kind of difficult to make just a few tablespoons of sauce. Try it. I have.

Others have you use ingredients to about a tenth of their flavor potential, then toss them unceremoniously in the garbage. Out of all the potential for (self) righteous indignation that comes from duplicating a recipe called "Cupcake Lasagna," that's the one that set me off the most. Why would you go to the trouble of pan-roasting what amounts to several heads of garlic, only to toss it all in the trash after using it for nothing more than flavoring some olive oil?! Apply the same (il)logic to using large chunks of carrots to add a bit of sweetness to a tomato sauce before blithely tossing them, and you've got almost an entire dish's worth of ingredients wasted.

I simply couldn't stand for it. I set aside the garlic, carrots, and several sheets of wonton wrapper, and decided to turn them into dinner. I considered my options for a day or so, then decided that simple is good. I made carrot soup.

When it comes to soup, I tend to ascribe to the Thomas Keller philosophy of getting out of the way of your ingredients. Pick an ingredient, cook it simply, don't do much to alter its flavor, and you'll wind up with a soup striking in its simplicity, and arresting in its intensity. My carrot soup contained nothing more than carrots, carrot juice, a bit of butter, and a splash of vinegar. That's it.

First, I bought some additional carrots to supplement the half pound or so I had left over. These, I sliced and glazed in a pan with some butter and a bit of Revival Market Bourbon-Sorghum Finishing Vinegar. The rich, earthy sweetness of the vinegar was a perfect pair with the carrots, both complementing their flavor and providing some acidity for contrast. The carrots (about two pounds) got puréed along with their cooking juices and butter. To thin out the consistency without thinning out the flavor, I added some fresh carrot juice. How much? Depends on how thin you like your soup. I probably used about 16oz. I adjusted the seasoning with salt and white pepper, and popped the soup in the fridge to chill.

Next up was the garlic. I could have just added it to the soup, but I wanted to let each of the individual flavors shine. Rather than garlicky carrot soup, I wanted the option of a hit of garlic with each bite. I settled on puréeing the garlic, and folding it into whipped crème fraiche, adding a dollop of the fatty, zingy stuff on top of every bowl.

Of course, I didn't pay close enough attention to my fridge in planning this dish. I'd meant to fold the garlicky crème fraiche into some whipped cream, lightening the texture a bit. The cream I thought I had was just a bit past peak. Instead, I simply added the garlic directly to the crème fraiche.

Onto the wonton wrappers. Call it an easy out if you want. I julienned them, and deep fried them until they were golden and crispy. While still hot, I tossed them with salt, coriander, and pink peppercorn powder. Those flavors are very well aligned with carrots, and I combine them often.

To serve, I ladled the soup into bowls, topped each bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche, and nested a small pile of coriander-pink-peppercorn wonton strings on top. A small scattering of chopped cilantro added some visual appeal, and brought a bright and summery punch to the dish. I dabbled with the idea of a last minute enrichment with St. Germaine (elderflower liqeuer), but couldn't get the ratio to where the taste showed up, but the sweetness didn't. Maybe next time.

All in all, the soup was delicious. Unfortunately, it was also just a bit too much. I mean that in two ways. The soup was so flavorful and so singularly "carrot," that it resulted in fairly quick palate fatigue. For the first few minutes, and about half a bowl, the whole table was all faces down and guttural sounds. Then, at roughly the same time, we all looked up from our bowls, smiling. Unfortunately, when we looked back at our bowls and saw that they were still half full (or half empty; which is the pessimistic outlook, here?), the smiles faded. We simply weren't interested, anymore.

Now, faced with a fair amount of leftover soup, we're deciding what to do with it. My wife decided to use the rest of the roasted garlic crème fraiche as a topper for baked potatoes (ah, the circle of leftovers). I think I'm going to pawn the remaining carrot soup off on one of my baby-laden in-laws. It's in the freezer, awaiting baby portioning, and subsequent splattering across a kitchen floor that thankfully won't be mine.

For those of you not interested in my leftover obsession, don't worry. I've already got a brand new A Page Outta in the works. I think it's gonna be pretty cool. In the meantime, what's next?

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall