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Leftovers are food from the gods

Heather Hopp-Bruce

Now is the time for clear-eyed appraisal. Now is the time to look generously upon another and see only potential. Now is the time for ingenuity, pluck, initiative, perseverance. It’s leftovers time!

Some see leftovers as a curse, a boredom, tomorrow’s trash-can fodder today. This is all wrong. I do have a parsimonious antipathy toward waste coupled with an unusual capacity to eat the same soup/stew/concoction many days in a row. But even without this particular mindset, I believe leftovers are food from the gods. It’s magic, people! You open the fridge and there is food, waiting for you, already prepared.


Part of the fun and challenge of daily cooking is figuring out how to turn the remains of Meal A into Meal B. Years ago, the Globe Food section ran a column called Sunday Supper that talked about how to do just that. Braised short ribs with root vegetables one day were reborn as pasta sauce the next. Spatchcocked chicken with lemon and herbs became a soup with escarole and white beans. Roasted salmon transformed into salmon cakes. And so on.

No food better lends itself to repurposing than rice. The next day, it can be turned into congee, fried rice, pilaf, salad, rice cakes, burrito filling, Japanese omurice, soup, rice pudding — even the crust for an onion tart, as in the recipe below from Charlotte Druckman, whose new cookbook, “Kitchen Remix: 75 Recipes for Making the Most of Your Ingredients,” is just right for these times. (You can also use just about any grain in a crust like this, she says.) The book offers a series of ingredient trios (broccoli, leeks, and chicken stock; cannellini, garlic, and chile), with three recipes built around each set. I spoke with Druckman to get tips on quarantine cooking. Here are some takeaways condensed from our conversation:


It’s time to learn how to cook, not just follow a recipe: “I think one of the hardest things to teach, but one of the most valuable things for anyone, is resourcefulness,” Druckman says. “Recipes go viral, which is great because it gets people to cook, but it’s not necessarily teaching someone how to make a stew, how to cook a chicken. Now we’re in a situation where maybe you can’t have all those ingredients and you have to cook. We need to be flexible and adaptable and open our minds to the ways we use an ingredient.”

Spices make the difference: “The longest section in [the cookbook’s] pantry section is spices. People think that isn’t where you should bulk up, but to me that’s everything. With a wide array, you can do anything, whether it’s a can of chickpeas or a chicken. It’s a transformative thing that allows you to turn something into something completely different. They don’t take up room and they last.”

Ingredients are to be used in the unintended manner: “I think people should not quarantine — haha — their ingredients to one category. You don’t have bread crumbs? OK, do you have potato chips [you can crush]? If something is delicious, I don’t think you have to restrict the way you use it. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I used Doritos in spaghetti. Go for it! Make cacio e pepe but use Doritos. It’s probably not going to suck, and what if it’s amazing and you’ve created a new household staple? This is the time to go for it. It’s so corny, but I feel like some of the best dishes of the world were created under hard constraints, rations or war or extreme poverty.”


Please yourself. “You have to think about what you like. Don’t think about what everyone tells you or what you ‘should’ do. People are going to tell you that you should make stock, but don’t if you’re not going to use it. You don’t have to buy beans. Get polenta; get rice; get quinoa. It’s OK. It’s such a simple thing: Start with what you like.”

A few closing words of wisdom: 1. “Make extra and freeze it.” 2. “You can change the entire flavor and profile of a dish by changing the fat you cook it in.” 3. “Anything can be a hash.” 4. “Don’t underestimate the power of toast.”

Onion tart.Aubrie Pick

Onion tart

Makes one 8- or 9-inch tart

1 1/2 cups packed cooked rice

2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage (optional)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1 large egg white

8 tablespoons (1stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

5 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 9 cups)

5 large egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch metal pie pan or cake pan.


2. In a large bowl, combine the rice, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, the sage (if available), and the cheese. Add the egg white and mix well to incorporate; the mixture should hold together when you press it in your palms.

3. Press the rice evenly into the prepared pan. As you push it into the pan, it will start to resemble a dough. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake to set the crust, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let cool completely, about 45 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Within 2 hours of baking, the prepared crust can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator overnight; let it come to room temperature before proceeding.

4. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, giving them a quick, gentle stir. Cover and cook, being sure they don’t take on any color. (If they begin to, reduce the heat.) As they sweat, they should release a noticeable amount of liquid. When they’re soft and sloshy, after about 30 minutes, uncover and continue to cook them, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour more. Transfer the onions and any remaining liquid to a large bowl to cool. The onions will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. Add the mixture to the bowl with the onions, whisking to incorporate. Add the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.

6. Carefully pour the onion mixture into the cooled crust, filling it as high as you can without overflowing; you will likely have some left over and can discard it. Bake until the filling is set and the top is lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Adapted from “Kitchen Remix: 75 Recipes for Making the Most of Your Ingredients,” by Charlotte Druckman. Photo by Aubrie Pick.

Other things to try

- Recipes from The Boston Globe’s Sunday Supper series.

- Andrea Nguyen’s Super-Simple Overnight Rice Porridge.

- Makiko Itoh’s infinitely flexible fried rice.

Question of the day: What are your favorite tips and tricks for making use of leftovers?

Thinking of you, good people.

- Devra


Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst or Instagram @devra_first.

Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.