Leftover lovers

Matt O'Leary
June 18, 2009

Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that, of late, this column has revolved around two distinct themes: summer and the onset of good weather, and thrift. It's not through a lack of inspiration-I'd hate to give the impression that writing this column is as easy as gazing out of the window and thinking either ‘Cor, what a lovely day' or ‘I wish I were a rich man'-but these, in fairness, do represent current obsessions. Saving money in the sunshine. That alliterates nicely. They're not the only two things currently occupying my mental space, but a food and drink column about labradoodles, the forthcoming Dylan Dog movie, Bat For Lashes or lettuce cultivation would presumably see the editors of The Florentine blowing the dust off their ‘REJECTED' stamps and prying open the tin of red ink. So, thrift and summer food it is: although depending on how the lettuce goes, we can consign that one to the ‘maybe' pile for now.Anyway, this fortnight's thrift advice revolves around what one should do when presented with leftovers. Food wastage statistics are truly shocking. We, as consumers, tend to buy way too much food and cook it out of mismanagement, boredom or desperation, and then end up having to cart big, aromatic binfuls of it out for collection on a daily basis. And repurposing cooked food isn't a tremendously attractive concept at all, if we're being honest. The word ‘leftover' itself conjures up images of rejected, unloved scrag-ends, languishing forlornly in the fridge on a plate, gazing unappealingly up at you every time you open the door to pick out a Chino, drooping their shoulders as the door closes and leaves them, again, in darkness... waiting for the inevitable moment at which you've had just one glass of wine too many and feel like a 2am, pre-unconsciousness sandwich.Poor leftovers. It's time to show them some of the love that they deserve. Additionally, if you factor in any spare cooked food into your eating plan, then you can eliminate the health risks involved with simply chilling food until you might feel like eating it. The inevitable caveat about following instructions about storage and longevity apply here, as you'd expect: be careful to store food properly once it's cooled, be very wary of risky ingredients like rice and cooked, processed (minced, shredded or reconstituted meat), seafood and so on. But stick to the guidelines and you'll find yourself healthy and sated.Roast, grilled, or sauteed pieces of meat make such good sandwiches and cold cuts that it's sometimes difficult to be bothered to do anything else to them. But they can also be unappetising and greasy the day after cooking, and so might need extra care and attention. Cuts of beef and steaks, or veal, can be cut into inch-thick pieces and cooked slowly in sauces made with plenty of tomato, celery, onion, carrots and beans, plus wine, stock, garlic and parsley, until falling apart. Serve this with rice. Chicken can be denuded of its skinny, fatty bits and either hammered tender with a rolling pin and served cold with a salad of strongly flavoured leaves and crisp pancetta or cooked until piping hot in a creamy vegetable sauce (maybe featuring leeks, spinach and mushrooms, with fresh sage and lots of pepper) before being tucked into a pastry case and baked until golden. Lamb can be chopped into fine pieces and fried with garlic, lemon, rosemary and parsley, then used to fill pitta bread or wraps with salad and a yoghurt and mint dressing. Pork, if it's been stored correctly, can be re-used too, but is best if it's a fatty joint from the belly or loin, preferably with the skin attached. Roll these as tightly as possible and then get them sizzling hot in the oven and serve with lentils slow-cooked in stock with soffritto vegetables and some rosemary or sage. Sausages can be sliced and added to tomato, bean and onion stews, or hot rice dishes.Most types of white fish can be good for lunch the day after it's been cooked: one way of serving it is to flake the fish and mix it into a mix of hot rice, cooked in stock and then flavoured with pepper and parsley or, if you're feeling bold, curry spices. You can then add sauteed peppers and onions, cut into fine slices, some fresh parsley, and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Stir well to ensure that the flakes of fish are piping hot before you serve the dish.We won't cover the usual ‘chop it all up and throw it in a bowl with salad and vinegar' or ‘stick them in a hot pan and pour beaten eggs over the top' routes, as you already know this. (However, a friend was converted, on a trip to visit friends in Rome, by what he considered to be the mind-blowing concept of a leftover linguine, tomato and onion omelette.) Use your imagination, as always. You think something might taste good in a salad? Isolate the flavours that work well and try to see if you can get them in a sauce or stew. Cuts of cooked meat and pre-prepared veg that would normally go in your omelettes can be wrapped in thin pancakes and baked in the oven instead. Who knows: soon you may find yourself cooking twice as much as you need at dinner and investing in a separate fridge for your beloved leftovers.

RECIPESRecipe of the fortnight: CHICKEN AND ASPARAGUS BAKE WITH LEEK SAUCE2 breast fillets of chicken, diced

5 large pieces of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2cm pieces

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

Oil for sauteeing

Salt and pepper25g butter

25g flour

1 small, trimmed leek, sliced very finely

500 ml milk

1 delicato stock cube

1 tbsp parsley, chopped1. Fry the chicken and onion in the oil, until the chicken is browned lightly and the onion is translucent.

2. Transfer to a small, deep dish and dot the pieces of asparagus around. Season and set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a pan. Add the leek and stir well, cooking until the leek is starting to soften. Add the flour and stir well, quickly, until it forms a paste with the butter and leek. Now, add the milk slowly, stirring all the while, to make a sauce.

4. Add the stock cube and cook for a couple of minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.

5. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables. Transfer to a hot oven and cook for 35-40 minutes, until the sauce is golden brown and bubbling. Serve with baked potatoes and green vegetables or salad.

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