Leftover Magic


I grew up in a ruthlessly frugal household.  My parents were the economizers-in-chief of all things, and food was no exception.  Apple 3/4 of the way rotten?  Still 1/4 left to eat!  Limp veggies? Perk 'em up in ice water!  Don't know what to make for dinner and don't have much in the house?  Get take-out?  Nooo!  We'll raid the fridge staples for green peppers and eggs (I'm sure that my almost pathological dislike of cooked green peppers comes from having been fed this meal one too many times).

I am admittedly far less of a tightwad, but I do hate to waste food.  Sometimes, I find that all it takes to whip up a quick, cheap meal is a moment or two of opening my mind and foraging in my pantry.

Case in point:  I had a lot of leftover cooked whole wheat linguine (I'd say around 4 cups), which L. spontaneously decided she "hates."  I had frozen peas that were gettin' a little iced-over.  I had some whole milk ricotta that didn't get used for a recipe.  And I had some shredded Italian 4-cheese blend threatening to mold.  Here's what I did. 

I cut the pasta into bite-sized lengths.  In a large cast-iron skillet, I heated 2 T. of extra-virgin olive oil.  To that I added some bottled minced garlic and sauteed the garlic just until it was fragrant - about a minute.  I added the linguine and started heating it through - stirring frequently.  Meanwhile, I thawed some frozen peas - probably a cup of them.  After my linguine was warm, I added the peas, and stirred those together.  Then I added about 1/2 c. of the ricotta and stirred that in.  I needed a little moisture, so I used a little chicken stock I had sitting in the fridge (a couple tablespoons) and stirred that, creating a sauce.  Then I hit the whole thing with a generous sprinkling of Kosher salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper and mixed it all up.  I made sure it was seasoned to my liking, then sprinkled the top of the whole deal with the 4-cheese blend, took it off the heat, and threw a lid on the pan .  .  . voila!  Add a side of protein (simple grilled chicken breast maybe?) or not, and you have a tasty, easy easy and cheap meal.  Sub in whatever pasta you have lying around, other fresh or frozen veg. (spinach or other greens would be nice here too), and of course, get creative with your cheese additions.

Next - Brussels sprouts.  Raise your hand if you like them.  Have you had the fresh ones?  If you've never had fresh ones and you say you don't like Brussels sprouts, then you need to try the fresh ones and reevaluate.  Until I was a grownup, I'd only ever had frozen Brussels sprouts, and I swore I hated Brussels sprouts.  Having tried them, I actually consider the fresh ones to be an entirely different food.

In any case, this would be a good way to try Brussels sprouts if you've never had the fresh ones, because it's so luscious and flavorful, you might forget they're [shhhhh] Brussels sprouts.

I cleaned and sliced the sprouts into thin slices - you can do this with however many Brussels sprouts you have on hand - I probably had 20 left over from my CSA share.  In a large skillet, I melted approximately 1/2 T. of unsalted butter and about 1 T. of extra-virgin olive oil - I let it get nice and warm and frothy.  I threw the sprouts in there and sauteed them for a minute.  To this, I added low-sodium chicken broth from the fridge, enough so that the sprouts were submerged about 1/2-way.  I let this cook for about 10 minutes total - stirring often, so that the sprouts could cook and the liquid could cook down.  Once there was a small amount of broth left, I added a few sprinkles of the leftover 4-cheese blend, some Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, removed the pan from the heat, and stirred . . . the cheese melted and created a lovely sauce with the remaining broth.  Adjust seasonings, and that's it.  They were tender, mild-tasting, and creamy good thanks to the butter/oil/cheese mixture.

Do you like leftovers?  Do you remix them or tend to reheat 'n' eat?  What's the most creative thing you've done with food sitting around in your pantry and fridge?