One of your favorite suppers growing up was Petits Riens ("Little Nothings"). I occasionally find myself with bits and bobs of ingredients and/or leftovers that all get cooked into a hearty casserole for a family-only meal. Although I typically season it with French herbs; Italian, Moroccan, Indian, Southwestern, or Chinese also work well. A simple green salad and a loaf of great bread turn Petits Riens into a meal.
Starch, cooked: Up to 4 cups of any kind of cooked starch. Don't worry if it's already been seasoned, and feel free to combine multiple starches. Rice, pasta, barley, corn, couscous, and oven roasted potatoes are all fair game. I don't use bread, however. I also try to mix starches that are about the same size -- penne and corscrew or barley, rice, and acine de pepe.
Protein, cooked: 1#, more or less. Seriously, don't stress or measure the amount. I've used everything from breakfast sausage to ends of deli meat to leftover taco mix. A little bacon, sausage, or pepperoni added to the cheese topping gives great flavor. Hard-boiled eggs work well. Canned, frozen, or baked beans are also great.
Vegetables: I don't use any (except corn, which is technically a grain, or thinly sliced tomatoes just under the cheese.) I have never been a fan of vegetables in casseroles or roasts, and I almost never have leftover veg. I always serve Petits Riens with a salad, too.
Sauce: 3-4 cups, freshly made. Marinara, bechamel, veloute, or even a simple stock gravy are all fair game. Toss in a few dried mushrooms or just spices -- the sauce will flavor the Petits Riens and enhance or cancel the other flavors in the leftovers. The freshly made sauce is what makes this dish special!
Cheese: 1-2 cups, whatever is on hand, optional. Again, don't buy cheese for this event. Use sliced American, cream cheese, shredded cheddar or mozzarella -- whatever you have lurking in the fridge. I've used string cheese or even an egg mixed into sour cream in a pinch. Avoid blue cheese or any other very strong cheeses.
Heat and stir together the starch and protein. Heat or make the sauce, and fold into the meat/starch mixture. Turn into a large casserole dish that has been lightly oiled. Top with cheese. Bake 25 minutes at 375 until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese starts to brown, Serve hot.
Tonight's Petits Riens was sauteed chicken breast slices, brown rice, barley, and stelline pasta in a wild mushroom cream sauce flavored with tarragon, marjoram, and nutmeg. I topped it with shredded Mexican cheese and crisp bacon. I served an apple fan on a bed of greens with homemade bleu cheese dressing and Portuguese Sweet Bread alongside the Petits Riens. The whole meal came together in under 45 minutes.
I'm making another Petits Riens for tomorrow's lunch with penne and corkscrew pasta, just under a pound of browned hamburg and leftover corn cut off the cob. I'll combine most of a jar of marinara with 1/2 carton of leftover sour cream. The whole Petits Riens will be topped with mozzarella and shaved parmesan, a handful of pepperoni slices cut into quarters, the end of a can of diced black olives, and a handful of chopped fresh basil from the garden.
The weather will be turning cool in another week or so, and we start school at the end of the month. Petits Riens helps me use up the end of quick-cooking summer ingredients as I restock the pantry and freezer for the heartier fall and winter meals.
Je t'aime plus qu'hier moins que demain,
P.S. April 2013 - We've discovered a FAVORITE new combo for a Mexican bake (pequeños nadas?). 4 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in chicken broth), 1 # cooked chicken chunks seasoned with chili powder, a pint of sour cream, a 4 oz can of diced green chiles, 2 tsp cumin, and a pound of corn roasted on an oiled pizza pan. Turn into an oiled 13 x 9 x 2" pan, and top with shredded Mexican cheese. Bake at 350 until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with fresh salsa.
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