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In the last edition of “Food for Thought” we discussed the angst that many feel about leftovers. On one hand we don’t want to waste food or money, on the other hand, many leftovers are only slightly better than starving. To resolve our dilemma we’re addressing ways we can reduce leftovers or transform them into more tasty prospects. Last week we reviewed some general strategies for planning, cooking, storing and reusing meals more efficiently. This week we address how to conserve and deliciously utilize specific leftover ingredients and dishes.
Let’s begin with oil. Deep-frying mandates large amounts of oil. One can easily expend a few quarts of oil which is not an incidental expense. It certainly seems like such a waste to throw it out after one use. No problem. It can be reused. Filter it through several layers of cheesecloth into a new container. Use it to deep-fry again or use it incrementally for sautéing or pan-frying. However, keep in mind what it was originally used for and stay within certain parameters. You don’t want to sauté steaks in oil you deep-fried flounder. If you deep-fried vegetables, then you have a little more flexibility for future cooking purposes.
Got leftover bread? Don’t throw it out. Make breadcrumbs. Whiz the remaining bread in a food processor and then pop the crumbs in the freezer for later use. Why buy breadcrumbs, as cheap as they are, when homemade are a cinch and taste so much better? Never refrigerate bread by the way, it actually goes stale faster. And for that matter, don’t refrigerate tomatoes, garlic or onions, (unless already sliced open).
Everybody’s had milk that’s a day or two from becoming stale. Use it to make a béchamel sauce, a delicious and creamy French sauce that goes great on virtually everything it touches.
2 oz. salted butter
4 oz. chopped onion
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 oz. all purpose flour
1 quart cold milk
Pinch of nutmeg
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and some salt and pepper.
Sweat, do not saute the onion until soft.
Add the flour and stir constantly for a minute or two. Gradually add the cold milk while constantly whisking. When all of the milk has been incorporated add the cloves and a little more salt and pepper.
Simmer the sauce on low heat for 20-30 minutes, frequently whisking and assessing for extra seasoning as the sauce thickens.
Strain the sauce through a chinois or fine meshed sieve and finish with the nutmeg.
How many times have you bought basil, used some of it to make marinara sauce and then ended up throwing out the extra? The problem is compounded by the fact that basil doesn’t seem to last as long as other fresh herbs. The solution? Make pesto. You can even freeze it for another day. Recipes for pesto vary greatly in terms of the ratio of ingredients. Basically just stuff a batch of basil into a blender. Add a small handful of pine nuts, a few garlic cloves, and a handful of Parmesan. Turn the blender on and add a steady stream of extra virgin olive oil until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For herbs in general, store them standing up in a sealable jar with some water, (much like flowers in a vase), in the fridge. This works especially well for long stemmed and delicate herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, etc. You’ll achieve much more shelf life than just leaving them in a plastic bag or even wrapping them in damp paper towels.
If you have a hodgepodge of leftover herbs and vegetables make a basic vegetable soup. This is a great way to salvage sundry items like that half an onion or sole carrot languishing in the crisper drawer. Chop all the vegetables, sauté lightly in a little bit of oil, add broth, a little tomato sauce if you like, simmer, and then finish with those herbs that are on their last legs.
Thus far we’ve been addressing leftover raw ingredients. But what about portions of completed leftover meals? Obviously something like surplus lasagna is eaten as is and not reincorporated into a new dish. Complex dishes are the ones most likely to be banished to the realm of stereotypical leftovers: previously cooked and partially eaten meals that sit in the fridge for days slightly discoloring and encrusting, which are then nuked and choked down when you don’t feel like cooking.
However, some previously cooked products can be reincorporated into new dishes, but ultimately these are usually individual ingredients. Previously cooked vegetables can be added to a stew or soup, but do so toward the end of cooking since they’re already soft. Leftover and previously cooked vegetables and meats can also be made into purées, terrines, salads, or pot pies. Leftover chicken? Chicken salad. Mashed potatoes or meatloaf? Shepherd’s pie. Leftover fruit? Blend it and make a smoothie. Leftover cooked asparagus? Refrigerate it and use the next day in a salad.
Here’s a good one: leftover fish. Yuk. Fish usually doesn’t take well to an extended sojourn in the fridge. But wait, my colleague, Chef Faith Alahverdian has come to the rescue. Below is her recipe for Farfalle salad with salmon which is designed to use up previously cooked fish. You can substitute almost any fish you like. Due to the short shelf life of fish, I recommend making this recipe within a day or two from when you originally made the fish.
1 lb. cooked farfalle salad
2 (4-oz.) previously cooked salmon fillets, flaked into small chunks
½ sugar snap peas, ends trimmed, steamed until crisp-tender
1½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Simply combine all of the ingredients and serve.
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