I love leftovers. A lot of people may say Yuk at the mention of leftovers, but I love them. I think my affection for meal-remains stems from my early childhood. As a kid, I was happy when I had a lunch from the dinner we had the night before. I liked next-day meat loaf sandwiches, but my favorite was cold calves liver on chewy rye bread with some sautéed onions and a few drops of ketchup. When I tell people this they look at me as if I have the most disgusting taste buds imaginable, but they don’t know how great it really is. I would make it today, but I have trouble finding calves liver. Chicken livers don’t provide the same palate excitement.
Part of the leftover thing is how good it feels to use up food that might otherwise go to waste. My post-depression upbringing influences my view of food – it is not something to throw out if I can possibly put it to good use. This is the virtuous part and fits very nicely with today’s push to be more conscious of how we use our resources, including not getting rid of dinner scraps. The other part is the creative opportunities that leftovers offer.
Again, this summer I am on Cape Cod in Wellfleet and the opportunities to use leftovers abound. So far, I have had three chances to experiment with leavings and each was a resounding success. My family had been here in early July and we had a feast of grilled bluefish marinated lightly with soy sauce and sesame oil accompanied by a home-made beet and potato salad, and corn on the cob. The fish, unbelievably fresh, was purchased at Hatch’s fish market and the vegetables at the little produce stand in the back. It was yummy, but of course we made too much. When everyone went home I surveyed what lay abandoned in my refrigerator. I had about one-half pound of cooked bluefish, excess beet and potato salad, one boiled Yukon Gold potato that I hadn’t used for the salad, three quarters of a red onion, a few scallions, three cooked ears of corn, some older celery, two carrots that had not quite started to wilt, two lemons, a lot of low and medium-fat milk, a chunk of cheddar cheese, and a few dozen eggs. I had a small amount of blue corn chips and several slightly stale baguettes from J & B Boulangerie in my freezer.
Because the bluefish was most vulnerable to spoilage I used that first. I mashed up the fish, added some chopped- up celery, a little mayonnaise – just enough to bind it together, clipped chives from the plant on my deck, and lemon juice. I had several meals of bluefish salad with beet and potato salad. Delicious!
My next adventure was vegetarian corn chowder. I cut up some celery, both carrots, scallions, and the red onion, and sautéed them together in a little butter. I scraped off the kernels and boiled the cobs in a little water which resulted in a lovely, sweet broth. I put a little flour in with the vegetables to make a paste and then added the corn broth, a lot of milk and stirred it until it was just holding together – not too thick. I like things creamy, but not goopy. I added the cut up potato (with the skin on) and the corn. I cooked it all for a few minutes until everything got nice and hot. A friend came over and we each had a big bowlful with blue corn chips. We declared that it was the best corn chowder we ever had. I had enough for three more dinners. I missed it when it was gone.
After the chowder I still had a lot of not-yet-sour milk, eggs, cheddar, and the frozen bread. I decided to make a strata. I confess that I went out to the Wellfleet Marketplace and bought a little more cheese and a small head of broccoli. I buttered an eight by twelve glass baking dish and spread out about two cups of baguette cubes. I steamed cut-up broccoli and deposited that around the bread along with grated cheese. I mixed up a lot of eggs and milk with some salt and pepper, poured it over the bread, and let it sit for a few hours. Then I baked it until it was nice and brown on top. I know this would be considered a brunch dish, but for me it was terrific for about five dinners.
A week- and-a-half after my family left, my refrigerator was bare. I hadn’t thrown anything out and I had wonderful meals – definitely a win/win situation. So, for all you leftover lovers like me, be proud of your resource-sensitive, honorable food recycling, and your creativity. For those who look askance at leftovers, maybe you can try them sometime – they are a worthy cause, pretty tasty, and a lot of fun.