Many of the great recipes of the world are creative uses of left overs. You have a few old vegetables, some pieces of meat, a little cheese, a dab of tomato sauce … not enough of anything to make a meal, but roll out some thin pieces of dough, spread on little olive oil, tomato sauce, some cheese and meat or vegetables, and you’ve got pizza. (Recipes later in this blog).
Somebody in France noticed the butt ends of smoked meat in the pantry, and decided to cook them with last years dried beans, and voila, cassoulet! (The American casserole is its very distant cousin.) Leftovers are a wonderful addition to soups, fried rice, cous cous, omelets and dozens of other dishes.
I divide leftovers into three groups.
The bones are only suitable for the stock pot. But they shouldn’t be neglected, because the stock captures nutrients that otherwise would be wasted.
Edible trimming and slightly wilted vegetables I freeze in ziplock bags for the day I make stock.
A note on handling and storage.
Cleanliness is key to the kitchen. Wash your hands frequently. Most contamination of leftover food is due to unclean handling. I’s also good to get food refrigerated as quickly as possible, but a piece of well cooked meat left overnight in a cool room will be fine. Trust your sense of smell and taste above all else. That said, here are some safe warnings. All cooked foods should be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours after cooking. Use clean utensils and store in clean containers. (Don’t put food back into the same container it came out of unless it’s been thoroughly washed).
If you don’t freeze, plan to use the cooked leftovers within the next four to six days. Remove the stuffing from cooked poultry and refrigerate or freeze it separately. If you date leftovers, you’ll know how old they are. Freezer masking tape (available at most local hardware stores) will stay on the freezer containers. When you reheat leftovers, make sure the wet food comes to a full boil before serving.
Start integrating leftovers into your cooking and you’ll start to cook differently. I spend a few hours on the weekend making a pot of soup or a batch of beans or a hearty sauce and then live off it for at least part of the next week.
Pizza – eating our plates and our leftovers
When Aeneas and the Trojan army finally rested while fleeing the Greeks, Virgil wrote that they ate a meal:
“Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour, To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”
Topping flat bread with vegetable and meat began in earnest with neolithic farming 10,000 years ago. The Egyptian added yeast from their beer fermentation.
The ancient Greeks called flat bread “plakous.” Soldiers of the great Persian king Darius baked flat bread on their shields and covered it with dates and cheese. By 997 the word pizza itself was being written in Latin.
Americans once insisted that pizza was invented in the United States and then taken back to Italy. There is a glimmer of truth to that, if you believe that tomatoes are an essential part of the pizza topping. Tomatoes are indigenous to the Western hemisphere and didn’t reach Europe until the middle of the 17th Century. Shunned at first as poisonous, and snubbed by European elites, tomatoes became poor people’s food, and spreading tomatoes and tomato paste on flat bread became common. Italian street vendors were selling pizza from carts by the middle of the 18th Century.
The first American pizza parlor opened in 1905 at 53 and 1/3rd Spring Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
Pizza purists can be fanatic. Some Italian chefs insist that there are only two kinds of true pizza – Marianara named for the sailor’s wives who made for their seafaring husbands and Margherita, named to honor a queen. According to the purists, strict rules control the oven, the temperature and ingredients. The best pizza I had recently cooked in an over so hot it was done in less than 2 minutes.
Homemade oven pizza can be wonderful. It’s easy, cheap and a great use for leftovers.
Pizza dough (12 – 6 inch pizzas)
- 1 package dry yeast (or 1 fresh yeast or a teaspoon of dry yeast)
- A scant cup of lukewarm water
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tbs olive oil
Pour the warm water in mixing bowl and add the yeast. Let it stand for a few minutes to soften, then add flour, salt and olive oil, whisking the first cup in to mix it thoroughly, then adding the more to make bread dough.
Turn the dough out onto a counter with the remaining flour (don’t be afraid to use more).
After the bowl is clean, wipe it out, add a little oil to the bottom, put in the dough and turn it to coat. Cover and let rise until double in bulk, about one hour in a warm place.
Take one small ball about the size of a golf ball. Roll it into a disk 6 inches across and put it on a cookie sheet.
- Tomato sauce (recipe in a next week’s blog).
- Grated mozzarella cheese
Halved black olives
- Thinly sliced garlic
- Thinly sliced red onion
- Grilled eggplant slices
- Sauteed mushrooms
- Cooked spinach or other greens
- Pepperoni or salami
- Smoked salmon or trout
- Thinly sliced cooked chicken
- Various cheeses
Top with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and bake in a 425 degree over for about 12 minutes, until light brown.