Leftoverture: Make Your Leftovers Sing A New Tune
I recently overheard this exact phrase: “We never eat leftovers.” To say I was aghast was not even close.
What planet did this woman live on? The thought of throwing away food is an anathema. It’s essentially giving the middle finger to every farmer who worked to grow that food and every underpaid migrant who worked unholy hours in a meatpacking plant. It wastes more than food; it’s a waste of money. Only in a nation where processed sugar, fat, and salt are called “food” is it acceptable to throw away so much edible matter.
But I understand the challenge. Make a big meal on Sunday and you’re still eating corned beef on Thursday. After four days of samey-samey, most people are ready to check out what’s in the dog’s bowl. We want to eat things that taste good—thus, we have the Leftover Dilemma. Make it nutritious. Make it easy. Make it last. Make it taste good. But most of all, make it interesting and somehow new, or nobody will go near it anymore.
At Your Service!
We’re going to explore two widely flexible, yet manageable solutions. That said, there’s nothing stopping you from warming up roast beef and mashed taters for breakfast. Or adding a leftover bit of a pork chop to your scrambled eggs. But we’re talking about transforming your leftovers into entirely new meal: something that will last for longer storage and be just as delicious the second time around.
First up: ravioli. I think I know what you’re thinking—that is not easy. Au contraire, my friend! I sat down with Chef Thomas White of Mia Famiglia restaurant who described how easy (and fun) it is to make ravioli. (Downtown Waukesha, look for the doors to open soon at the new location as the White family moves from Hales Corners to Waukesha.)
Forget all the fancy equipment. A flat surface and a quick wrist are all you need. A mix of eggs, oil, water, and salt are gently beaten with a fork. Add the flour of your choice, stir until smooth. Then roll it out. That’s it. There are different methods to make the actual pillows. Some folks use a round cutter and fill half the space and fold over into a half-moon shape. By far the easiest method, is to cut the dough into strips. Lay a dollop of filling on the strip about every two inches. Lay another strip of dough on top. Then use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into squares. Press closed with a fork. That’s it! (See the sidebar for a recipe).
Ravioli is made special by the fillings—and here’s where your leftovers are the star of the show. Chef Tomas is under no illusions about how hectic our daily lives are. As we were chatting, he told me he trained in fine dining restaurants, using the most expensive, exotic ingredients. “I grew up on the southwest side of town. Our neighbors grew their own vegetables. Everyone cooked at home. No one would dare throw food away. And when I saw so much waste in the restaurant, I knew I found my calling. Simple, local foods cooked like my family did.”
His ravioli are a staple on his restaurant menu, as well as the most popular item at Mia Familigia’s farm market stand. “We’ll have a chicken breast on the menu and know that the other parts of the chicken will be used as part of the ravioli filling.”
Another benefit to making ravioli is the freezability—a batch of ravioli can be packed in dinner-sized portions into a freezer bag and safely kept for about 3 months. Which means, not only are you not wasting food, you’re saving time. Chef Tomas gives this example: Buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner, then use the leftover chicken as part of your ravioli filling. All you’re left with is the chicken carcass (which leads us to our next transformative meal).
There’s a reason that soups are a hallmark of a really good restaurant. They require a small bit of know-how and goodly amount of time. I’ve said it before about bread-making, but soup is another food that rewards the patient cook.
The essential element to every soup is the stock. A stock is a flavorful broth, full of nutrients extracted from the food via a long slow cooking period. ANYTHING can be made into one! That leftover rotisserie chicken, cooked with roasted vegetables makes for a great soup base.
Here’s another tip from Chef Tomas: If your vegetables are coming to the end of their life, scrub them up and roast them with a bit of olive oil and salt. They can be added to the pot for soup stock or serve as the beginning of a vegetable stock.
Turkey dinner transforms into eight quarts of turkey broth by adding water to the carcass and simmering for 12-18 hours. A hambone. Lobster shells. Fish heads. Nothing goes to waste in the creation of a stock. At its purest, it is using heat and water to access the maximum minerals and fats from the the leftover material.
Wondering about the latest food trend—bone broth? It is just that: bones simmered in water for 24 hours with a little extra vegetable and herbs for joosh. That long simmer-time infuses the broth with all the marrow, mineral, and nutrients from the bone.
Steve Wendhardt is the maker wielding the spoon at the Wisconsin Soup Company, another farm market favorite. He is a believer in the healing powers of soup, calling it, “everyday medicine for everyone”. Wendhardt pointed out that the oldest soup recipes are over 2,000 years old and that every culture has it on the menu. Some people are daunted by the time it takes to make soup, but that’s where your leftovers can work for you. Wehndhardt suggests keeping a couple containers in your refrigerator—one for vegetables and one for meats. Add your scraps throughout the week. When you have more time on a weekend or on your day off, make a batch of soup.
For the essentials of a good soup, you need to focus on a featured item. Have ham stock in the freezer? Add the dried peas and carrots and you’ve got split pea. Chicken stock and wilted spinach? The beginnings of an amazing Greek lemon orzo. Wehndhardt suggests experimenting with flavors and foods you like. (See sidebar for flavor combination suggestions.)
Soups are also easily frozen. Package into meal-sized containers and freeze. You’ll appreciate it when the summer temps are in the high 80’s and you don’t want to turn on the stove. You may remember the 1947 classic children’s story Stone Soup. The story of three hungry soldiers coming home from war and the villagers who are hoarding food items. In the story, no one person had the ingredients for an entire meal, but when they worked together, they were able to cook a nutritious meal for everyone.
The moral of the story is relevant today. Every day in your life you will encounter someone who has missed a few meals. They probably won’t tell you they’re hungry. Here’s what we know: bodies need nutritious food for fuel. We owe it to everyone to eat all the food we purchase and grow.
Turn Your Stock and Veggie Combinations Into Soup
Chicken stock is the “mother” of all stocks! When in doubt about where to start, use chicken stock.
Italian Wedding Soup — chicken stock, meatballs, spinach, orzo
White Bean with Greens — chicken stock, white beans, parmesan rind, seasonal greens
Squash — chicken stock, thyme, seasonal squash
Tortilla — chicken stock, pureed ancho peppers, onion, tomato, garlic, tortillas
Tomato Alphabet — chicken stock, tomato juice, alphabet noodles
Minestrone — chicken stock, everything you’ve got in the fridge!
Potato — ham/pork stock, potatoes, leeks, chopped leftover deli ham
Split Pea — ham/pork stock, split peas, carrots, celery, onions
Black Bean — ham/pork stock, dried beans, celery, garlic,
Polish Sausage — ham/pork stock, kielbasa, potatoes, carrots, onions,
Posole — ham/pork stork, chipotle in adobo sauce, onion, chicken and pork meat, hominy, green chiles, garlic
French Onion — beef stock, onions, thyme, cognac, gruyere cheese
Borscht — beef stock, cabbage, celery, leeks, parsnips, tomato paste
Barley — beef stock, barley, carrots, celery, onions
Pho — beef stock, ginger, fish sauce, scallions, star anise, basil, hoisin, beef strips
Crab Chowder — seafood stock, crab, onion, fennel, tomato, garlic, potato
Bouillabaisse — seafood stock, onion, fennel, tomato, any fish you’ve got!
Mediterranean Fish Soup — seafood stock, onion, tomato, garlic, bell peppers, orange juice, white wine, mushrooms, black olives, cod (or any flaky white fish)