I encourage cooks - particularly young cooks - learn the benefits of 'batch cooking'. By this, I simply mean cooking a bit more than you would need for a single meal. For example: you've got a half bag or box of pasta in the cupboard, and you might need half of that for dinner tonight. Cook the whole thing. Instead of just enough beans for tonight, cook enough for a few meals. And, here's the other important thing: keep it simple. Naked. Basic. Cook the pasta plain. Cook the beans plain. Unadorned. No sauces or other strong flavors other than a bit of salt and pepper. This way, each can morph into any number of different dishes and uses. And, batch cooking saves you from crappy take-out. I'll talk more about batch cooking in another post.
This humble bit of leftover whole-what pasta could become so much more, depending on what else I have in the fridge or freezer. Add to: a salad, soup, beans, rice (think: pilaf), a stir-fry, a Ragout (a slow-cooked French-style stew that can be made with meat or fish and vegetables—or even just vegetables), sautéed vegetables or protein, toss into a bit of leftover sauce.
Leftovers, and what the cook can do with them, is how one tells the beginner from the experienced home cook. Got 'not quite enough' leftover soup? Add a handful of frozen vegetables from those bags in the freezer. Add some pasta or rice or other whole grains. Use a couple of big spoonfuls of the batch beans you made in your Instant Pot. Suddenly, the 'whole' is so much greater than the sum of the parts. You've breathed new life into a dish.
As you can see, the humble bit of leftover pasta became a delicious Ragout for dinner. I had a package of homemade Marinara in the freezer that needed to make way for new stock, and some vegetables in the crisper that appealed to me. Zucchini, yellow summer squash, the last of some fresh asparagus, onion. The Marinara sauce - the way I make it - already had carrots, garlic and such in it. All told, the finished product was done in about 20 minutes. I served it for dinner with a persimmon and celery salad, dressed with a simple Maple, Apple Cider and Aquafaba dressing.
If you're new to all of this, you might want to create a simple 'cheat sheet' to hang inside a cupboard door. List what you might pair pasta, beans or grains with. Remember that leftover soups and stews can become a quick and easy 'sauce' and ladled over any starch, including baked potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes or winter squash.
Today for lunch, there was 'not quite enough' of a Kaboucha squash and chickpea chowder in the fridge. I quickly reached into my freezer stash, and tossed in some frozen peas and green beans. Let it simmer a bit, drizzle some spicy marinated sweet pepper sauce over, and voilá! a hearty chowder for a fall day. Add some hearty bread, fruit and such, and you've got a nice small meal.
This is also the place to think about keeping a simple inventory of what you have in your freezer. Bags of frozen vegetables and plant-based, alternative proteins can come in so handy - take what you need, tie-up the bag and toss it back in. Frozen vegetables are every bit as nutritious and tasty as fresh, and are often a better value since you'll waste less. Fresh has a much shorter 'shelf life' compared to frozen. You need to be particularly diligent about properly storing and using up fresh produce. Bags of alternative proteins, like Gardein Meatless Chick'n Strips, Meatless Meatballs, Sliced Italian Saus'age , Quorn Meatless Pieces , Seitan or green Jackfruit products are available in either frozen or vacuum-packed portions that you can keep on-hand and at the ready.
So, get thinking about creative and tasty ways to use those leftovers. And, pat yourself on the back, because you'll save time (preparing a new meal from scratch) and money.
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