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Leftovers: An Apologia

Every so often I met Shirley at the copy machine. She was senior staff, I was junior. One day the conversation turned to food. 

“I’m by myself,” she said. “I poach a big piece of salmon on Monday and eat it all week.” I was horrified.  And must have shown it. “I don’t enjoy cooking,” she said. “And you know, cooking for one.”

I thought of her yesterday morning when I ate a chunk of leftover salmon for breakfast. It was a semi-failed dish, two days prior, of salmon and brothy beans with chard. Semi-failed–the beans needed to be a little brothier, the chard fresh, not leftover.  But damn, two days in waiting had made a disappointing dish great.

I cook for two, but I would never despair cooking for one. Some dishes are as good or better a day later. Stews, I’m talking about you. And leftovers are an inviting raw material for next-gen dishes. 

In Tuscany you order ribollita, a soup whose name flatly states you’re trafficking in leftovers. And minestrone, yes it might start with fresh chopped onion, celery, and carrot. But you plunder the fridge for soup-worthy leftovers.  Soup’s operating principle is get rid of stuff. 

Midweek I had a half platter of day-old boiled zucchini, half a pot of brothy beans with brown rice, and two large disappointing heirloom tomatoes, one of them kind of saggy with a black bruise.  I chunked up the zucchini; scalded, peeled, and chopped the tomatoes, and added them to the beans and rice, with a little leftover chicken broth in the refrigerator door. Thirty minutes and oh man. Oh-man-oh-man-oh-man. We ate and we were filled. Transported.

I get it, Shirley. I get salmon and convenience and the desire, if you have it, to forget about cooking. But you miss out on leftovers, miss their potential, their capacity to live again, to give rise to really good food. 

Leftovers, I am for you.

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