In Praise of Leftovers

In the days that there used to be an office to go to and work to finish, perishables were always perishing in our chillers. The lightly wilting herb, the limp lettuce and the bendy carrots were languishing in the vegetable drawers of oblivion. It’s not that I’m frugal but in a world of plenty for one half and desperate need for the other, we have no business throwing food away if we can avoid it. That’s the moral part, the other part is sheer delight in the results. A little imagination, a lot of determination, a dash of courage and a dose of luck and you’re on your way to a second serving of goodness.

My go-to with odds and sods of green veg and herbs is always a soup! Never the same one twice, obviously, because there’s never exactly the same thing in the fridge. Old gaping onions and sighing spring onions make a great omelette, especially if you grate that last dodgy piece of cheese into it. I have to admit that I keep some help in the freezer; homemade stocks, some slices of smoked salmon, always a few rashers of bacon or the odd old sausage. It will always come in handy and if it’s a soup or a stew, who cares about a bit of freezer burn, as long as there is no freezer smell.

The other day, when our pasta machine arrived, Eddie made fresh pasta and I heated up (and revived) a Bolognese sauce from October 2018 and it was perfectly fine, in fact it was marvelous and I wish I could remember how I made it. A dash of wine, a drop of vinegar, a few freshly chopped (possibly old) herbs will revive a tired sauce. Of course tomato sauce never really gets tired. It has that balance of sweetness and acidity that preserves it naturally. Try a half a cup of cream in anything that seems a little, you know, not so fresh anymore. But please; once it smells sour, just through it out and don’t waste a good cream on it!

I posted a recipe for General Vegetable Soup this morning, but that’s really just the beginning of the story. There are many ways of using up leftovers and even complete failure can turn into success, if you are brave enough. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed this, but culinary bravery is really about not caring so much. I don’t know about you, but whenever I think “what the hell” and just go for it, it usually turns out just great. Case in point is the “Badly Made Polenta”:

I was trying to make Gnocchi alla Romana, which are semolina gnocchi, but I didn’t have the time to leave them to set, so could not cut them and when I tried to fry the stuff, it just couldn’t be flipped over. About to throw it out, it scooped some on a plate, let it cool and was rewarded with a very delicious mess! So I fried the rest up in batches to brown one side and then scrambled it and threw it into a dish, sprinkled parmesan and ground black pepper over it. Eccolo!

Polenta and what it is not.

Corinne, a good friend of ours pointed out that my Polenta recipe,
wasn’t actually Polenta, as it was made with semolina, but with cornmeal. Now Corinne knows what she is talking about when it comes to food, but… it’s not the whole story.

“Latin polenta covered any hulled and crushed grain, especially barley-meal, and is derived from the Latin pollen for “fine flour”, which shares a root with pulvis, meaning “dust” – Wikipedia

As is always the case with the food of the poor, Polenta was really just a slop made with any cereal the peasants could get hold of. It could be soft, even soupy, or hard enough to boil, set and cut into cakes. If you were flush, it could be made with milk and cheese and if you were teetering on the edge of starvation, even made with water alone, it could sustain you. When I was little, my mother would never make Polenta, because it was food for the poor and I guess our starving peasant days were still too close to living memory.

Corinne enjoying a bowl of food for the poor.

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