I have this theory that many traditional/regional dishes actually started out as leftovers or scraps, and generally include ingredients that were readily available, prepared in a routine way, to avoid waste and occasionally to save time. People didn’t always have such easy access to food–or to lots of cooking implements–as we do now, so were perhaps more anxious to use everything. Let’s start with bread, a very basic foodstuff in the West.
Think about it: What’s a (traditional Italian) pizza if not a scrawny piece of bread dough stretched out a bit, baked with a few tidbits of this and that thrown on? I’m sure I read somewhere that tarte flambe (French pizza, baked flat but served rolled up) was traditionally made with scraps on bread-baking day in Alsace–at the end of the day, in the dying embers of the communal oven. Over time, favourite combinations of toppings got named and, like other regional dishes, became prescriptive recipes to future generations or the otherwise uninitiated.
So what else fits my theory–just in terms of bread?
French toast? Stale bread soaked in an egg and milk mixture, fried. (From France, obviously, although they call it ‘pain perdu’ which means ‘lost bread’.)
Bread and butter pudding? Stale bread, but this time buttered with milk and egg poured over, and baked. (From the UK.)
Croutons for salad? Stale bread again, sliced/broken/smashed up and dried/baked/fried with herbs. (French.)
Bread stuffing? Essentially croutons, moistened with stock, dressed up with various additional ingredients, depending on circumstances (winter veg, nuts, oysters…), stuffed in the cavity of a bird, fish or rolled joint and roasted with it. (American, especially for Thanksgiving. … Definitely traditional in the USA but possibly not originally American. A quick internet search was inconclusive.)
Surely this was our ancestors, making the most of their bread!
These are just a few mainly European examples of how to use leftover bread or scraps of bread dough. I’m sure you can think of others. Please share, and say where they originate!