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Leftovers Repurposed

Mike McCune via Flickr (used under CC BY 2.0 license)

I think a lot of us are not dealing with food supply and menu planning quite the same way we did a few short months ago. We're making fewer trips to the grocery store and spending lots of time surfing the web for new recipe ideas. We're also casting a speculative eye at pots and bowls and containers of leftovers. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, when it comes to re-purposing food our refrigerators are actually little gold mines.

For example, rummaging through the fridge I saw we had some salad leftovers: bell peppers, onions, and carrots; plus one or two Italian sausages un-used after an earlier dish; and a half jar of tomato sauce; and some garlic. What to make? The solution is easy, a super rich pasta sauce. You coarsely process the carrots, peppers and onions, stir them into your tomato sauce, add a can of chopped tomatoes and the garlic. Season as you will (Al always adds a dollop of balsamic vinegar) and you've got a very nice sauce for your rigatoni.


Any big roast, be it beef or chicken or lamb, has second day possibilities galore. The first thing that comes to mind is pot pie for the beef and chicken, or shepherd's pie for the lamb.  


Essentially, you start by making a stew with your protein as the base. You'll want to pull that bag of frozen peas out of the freezer, get some cut up potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions, and you're in business. Secure a pie crust for the beef or chicken; or use mashed potatoes for the ground lamb and shepherd's pie.  


The key step is to thicken the sauce in your stew so that it's not too runny. You can easily accomplish this with a little corn starch.  The method is simple.  First, allow the stew to simmer and reduce the liquid broth. Next, put two tablespoons of corn starch in a small bowl. 


Carefully spoon about a quarter cup of broth (no peas, etc) over the corn starch and stir vigorously to make a slurry. Pour the smooth slurry into the stew, bring up the heat and stir vigorously again. The broth will quickly begin to thicken to the point of being syrup-like.


Another thing to do with that stew is to take it the other way:  make it thinner with more broth and turn it into a soup. In the case of left-over lamb I cut it up into very small cubes and reach for carrots and a bag of barley. Put it all together in a pot of chicken stock and you end  up with a bowl of Scotch broth, one of my favorite hearty soups.


Perhaps the ultimate left-over dish is the frittata. All you have to do is to cut up the leftovers from your last few dinners, put it in a baking dish, and cover it with beaten eggs. Pop it into the oven with a little sprinkled cheese, and bang, you've got a great meal.  No fuss, no muss.


From Great Britain come a bunch of ideas. Shepherd's Pie, also known as Cottage Pie, both use lamb or beef stew as the base. But instead of a pastry crust, you use left-over mashed potatoes.  Either way, that big roast dinner becomes a recycled treat.


Very closely related is the curiously named Bubble and Squeak. This essentially scrapes the leftovers from your dinner plate into a skillet. Actually it is a tad more involved than that. But you do take all the veggies particularly cabbage or Brussels sprouts, along with the potatoes, and chop/mash it all together. You can also add bits of meat and bacon.  Fry the hash in butter, pressing the mixture down.


The hash becomes a solid piece, which allows you to flip the entire thing in the skillet. Brown but do not burn the hash. As it cooks, the cabbage will in fact start to make a squeaky sound and the butter will bubble up through the hash. Ordinarily Bubble and Squeak is served warm as a breakfast dish, not unlike hash browns.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.