As part of my new, frugal, lifestyle, I’ve vowed to stop wasting food and avoid the shameful weekly fridge purge, where I dump out all the leftovers that lay forgotten in the back. So I’m always looking for creative ways to transform leftovers. Here’s this week’s idea.
Years ago I used to go to a wonderful, romantic, old-world Italian restaurant in Würzburg, Germany, called – get this – Ristorante Italia. My favorite part of any meal there was the antipasti misti, which I would often make a meal of. The waiter would wheel over a clear Lucite cart containing plates of grilled, marinated vegetables, thinly sliced prosciutto, salami, mortadella, cheeses, olives, marinated anchovies and mussels – oh my! I usually concentrated on the vegetable offerings; their grilled zucchini was a marvel, at once tender but with a bit of chewiness, and marinated in real balsamic vinegar and good olive oil. When I asked a young Italian colleague how to achieve this zucchini marvel, she shrugged and said, “Just put them in the oven.” Well then!
Since then, I’ve had success grilling veggie slices on the BBQ grill outdoors; this method is time consuming, but results in slices of eggplant, zucchini and onion that are tender yet not mushy and have lovely char marks. But who wants to do that in winter, in the Northwestern rain? So yesterday, my lovely sister-in-law and brother-in-law invited us over to watch the Oscars and eat pizza. A neighbor was bringing the salad, and the dessert was already taken care of, so I checked my not-so-well-stocked fridge for inspiration. Hey – an “Italian” feast calls for antipasti misti, which would give me the opportunity to use up some veggies that were languishing in my fridge. Here’s what I had:
- An eggplant that was starting to go soft
- One and a half zucchini
- A red onion
- A red bell pepper and an orange one
And in the cupboard I found a jar of Trader Joe’s marvelous marinated artichoke hearts and a can of Spanish green olives stuffed with anchovy. (Don’t make that face – they’re very good and not fishy, just salty.)
So I quartered the peppers and roasted them under the broiler until they were good and charred. I popped them into a lidded bowl to steam while I roasted the thinly-sliced eggplant, then zucchini, then onion wedges, brushing each slice lightly with olive oil. I finished each tray of roasted veggie slices with a few moments under the broiler, which approximated that nice grilled char effect. Then I peeled the now-perfect peppers and sliced them up too.
I made a nice vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, some mixed dried herbs, lots of black pepper and a bit of salt, a pinch of brown sugar, and some olive oil. Whisking everything but the oil together first makes a nice emulsion and holds the olive oil in a creamy suspension. Then I used that lidded dish from the peppers to shake each batch of roasted veg. in a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette, just enough to lightly coat them, and then arranged them in a dish. I plopped the drained artichoke hearts in the middle and scattered the olives over all, et voilà! (Or however you say that in Italian) I served this with some sourdough bread, and it was mahvelous, dahling. It would’ve been even better if I’d had some fennel to roast, but my object was to use up the veg. I already had, not to go buy more.
Of course, there’s always too much good food at M. and M.E.’s house, so we came back home with a few cups of roasted veggies. Today I boiled up some pasta twists, and then I pan-fried two chicken breasts in olive oil, which resulted in some lovely drippings. I chopped up the chicken, dumped the meat and drippings into a bowl with the noodles, cut up the leftover roasted veg. into smaller bits and stirred those in, and added a few more leftover bits from the fridge – about a cup of garbanzo beans and some crumbled feta cheese. There was enough vinaigrette left on the veg. to moisten the salad, but if that hadn’t been the case, bottled vinaigrette would have done nicely – I like Paul Newman’s.
And so I created two yummy dishes out of the veggies that, if I’d ignored them a few days longer, I’d have had to throw out. Not bad for leftovers!