Leftovers are unappealing. Dumped into dented plastic containers, they get shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten, until they’re discovered weeks later, covered in funky patterns of furry chartreuse mold.
I’ve been reading a fantastic little book by Tamar Adler called An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace that challenges the very notion of leftovers.
Although An Everlasting Meal is definitely a food book, it’s not your typical cookbook, filled with complicated recipes. It’s also not a moral manifesto to make you feel guilty that you’re eating too much meat and contributing to the death of the planet. An Everlasting Meal is an invitation to think about cooking differently, a long conversation with a sensible chef during which the contents of your fridge become possibilities rather than future waste.
Food is so polarized into fancy/elaborate and cheap/poor/bad/easy. Somebody needed to step between those poles and say that cooking and eating well are not hard to accomplish, and they are what makes life easier.- Tamar Adler in an interview on Poor Man’s Feast
Adler worked in the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Prune, but she doesn’t sound like one of the chefs you’d see dueling on the Food Network. She writes beautifully about the type of cooking you’d do at home, takes you into her kitchen after a big trip to the farmer’s market, when your counters are filled with sweet potatoes, squash, and red peppers. Chapter by chapter, she walks you through turning one meal into another and then another, shows you how to think of your leftovers as ingredients rather than obligations.
Cooking is best approached from wherever you find yourself when you are hungry, and should extend long past the end of the page. There should be serving, and also eating, and storing away what’s left; there should be looking at meal’s remainders with interest and imagining all the good things they will become.
This is the type of book you rave about, and thrust into your friends’ hands saying, “trust me. you need to read this book. ” Emily, with whom I co-founded the Chicago Food Swap, put an Everlasting Meal in my hands. The pages are underlined and starred, filled with her enthusiastic comments. My copy is on its way from Amazon. I need to own it, and not just in electronic form. One day I’ll be handing it down to my children, the margins covered with my scribbles.
If you look at the carcass of a roasted chicken and see a golden chicken stock just waiting to be made, you’re already thinking like Tamar Adler, you just haven’t read her, nodding enthusiastically as your eyes scan the page. Each meal flows into the next, an endless celebration of good quality ingredients.
I began the week by roasting a bunch of squashes. Some went to Sophie’s baby food. Some went into a batch of golden risotto which we had for dinner on Tuesday. Then last night, the remaining risotto had become thick and starchy, and it shaped easily into little balls of rice. Each ball was given a pungent nugget of raclette cheese, tossed in blended eggs, and coated with bread crumbs.
Then after a quick stint in a buttery pan, we had warm roasted squash arancini for dinner. The creamy risotto was reborn as crispy breaded bites, a perfect dinner for a brisk fall night.
Arancini (rice balls) are a great way to celebrate leftover risotto.
- 3 cups of leftover risotto
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup of good melting cheese, such as fontina, raclette, or mozzarella - depending on how much smell you like in your cheese
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 3/4 cups of panko bread crumbs
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl and scramble with a fork until thoroughly blended.
- Measure and pour the bread crumbs into a separate bowl.
- With a soup spoon, scoop out large chunks of risotto. Shape them into rough balls with your hands.
- Insert a nugget of cheese at the center of each ball, and reshape if necessary so the cheese is in the center.
- Dip each ball into the egg mixture, then into the bread crumbs to coat completely.
- Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add 6 balls to the pan to fill it without having them be too crowded. With a spatula, push each ball down into a patty. Cook for 3-4 minutes on that side and flip when browned and toasted. Cook for another 3-4 minutes and serve immediately.
- These arancini are lovely on their own, but even better when dipped in warm tomato sauce.