According to the NRDC, leftovers are the number one source of edible food waste in American households. After all the trouble of menu planning, shopping and cooking, apparently, we have a terrible habit of just pitching out our good food, or at least a substantial portion of it. When I talk to people about this, the top reason that they cite for their dine-and-ditch habit is that they don't like leftovers.
Personally, I can't think of a thing notto like about leftovers. First of all, they are right there in your refrigerator waiting for you. No need to plan, shop and cook if you don't want to. Not a lot left? That's ok, use whatever you have as a springboard for your next meal. Even a tiny bit of something - a scoop of rice, some steamed vegetables, even the bones from your roast - can be the base of a tasty dish.
But what I think people really mean when they say they don't like leftovers is that they don't want a "less than" meal. And that is something I totally get. Who wants a lesser version of the straight-out-of-the-oven dinner they had last night? Who wants to bore their tastebuds with the same meal three nights in a row? The solution is upcycling - creating subsequent meals out of, let's not call them leftovers, but "previously cooked ingredients" (PCIs) that do not in the slightest resemble or taste like their former iteration.
One of my favorite tricks for disguising PCIs is to turn your leftovers into savory pie. First of all, who doesn't like savory pie? They're savory. And they're a pie. And they are brilliant at completely disguising any PCIs you have on hand. They are also a bonus to make around the holidays or anytime when you feel particularly full on fridge bits but low on time because you can make a batch out of anything, freeze it up and have upcycled deliciousness on hand any time. So, let's get to it.
Recipe: Hand Pies/Empanadas
Makes about 12
Hand pies, empanadas, any sort of handheld hot and toasty meal in a crust, are not only tasty, they are beloved by the trickiest audience - wee eaters. Keep a stash of these on hand and you will always be prepared with after school snacks, lunchbox filler or dinner on those nights when you. can't. even. No small fry about? No problem. They're good for grown-ups, too.
The most traditional empanada filling contains ground beef, raisins, egg and olive - odd sounding, scrumptious tasting. You can use it as base to riff off of or use any combination of tidbits you have on hand.
The template below can accommodate a wide range of ingredients - feel free to substitute or add what suits you. Because they are meant to be eaten out of hand, you want a filling that isn't too juicy or saucy. Some sautéed onions with a spoonful of tomato paste and a splash of water or stock will tie everything together without getting too soupy.
For the Filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
Salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water or stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups previously cooked ingredients such as chicken, ground beef or burgers, steak, pork, sausages, beans, chickpeas, lentils, vegetables of any sort cooked by any method, in any combination, diced
1/4 -1/2 cup Flavoring ingredients such as cheese, olives, cooked eggs, capers, raisins, cooked bacon, pickled chili peppers, or scallions, diced finely
2 tablespoons fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, or dill, minced (optional)
For the Wrappers
12 empanada wrappers (available in the Latin American section of the grocery store) or 1 batch of empanada dough or pie crust, prepared, rolled and cut into 6" circles
1 egg, beaten
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and sauté until translucent, three to five minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute. Add tomato paste, oregano, cumin and stock and bring to a simmer. Add previously cooked ingredients and simmer until heated through. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly and add flavoring ingredients and fresh herbs, if using. Allow to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Arrange a wrapper or disk of dough in front of you. Spoon 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of filling into the bottom half of the disk. Moisten the inside edge of the bottom half of the disk. Fold the top half of the dough over the filling and press to seal. You can use a fork to crimp the edge, if you like. Place on the prepared cookie sheet.
Repeat with remaining wrappers or dough, leaving ½" of space between each. Brush with beaten egg. Use a fork to poke holes in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape. Bake until the dough is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
Serve immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to five days or wrap and freeze for several months.
Makes 6 calzones
A calzone is basically a folded pizza, and you can fill it with whatever you have on hand. The base of tomato sauce and melted cheese will make any eater happy, no matter what else is in there. Because the base is already tasty and satisfying, this is a great recipe for using up small amounts of PCIs. You can make a whole selection of calzones each with different fillings or combine your leftovers and make a consistent batch. Now that's abbondanza!
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 batch pizza dough (also available in the refrigerated section of the grocery)
1 cup tomato sauce
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced
1 cup assorted previously cooked meat, vegetables or beans
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and brush with one tablespoon of olive oil.
Divide the dough into six portions. In the palm of your hand, roll each portion into a ball. Lightly flour your clean counter and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into 6" circles. Spoon a generous ounce (two tablespoons) of sauce onto the bottom half of each round. Use a spoon or small spatula to spread the sauce to within ¼ inch of the edges of the dough. Divide the cheese between the calzones, sprinkling it over the sauce. Top with your previously cooked ingredients. Moisten the bottom edge of the dough circle with water. Fold the top of the calzone over the bottom half and press to seal, gently pressing on the ingredients to eliminate any air pockets.
Transfer the calzones to the cookie sheet and brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Cut one or two slits in the top of each to allow steam to vent. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to five days or wrap tightly and freeze for up to three months.
Recipe: Pot Pie
Pot pies are a great upcycle when you want a dish that is saucy and comforting. It's the warm fuzzy blanket of winter meals and a perfect foil for PCIs. While the most common ingredient in potpie is chicken, it doesn't need to be. The secret is a thick, creamy sauce to blanket everything in the pot. The sauce velouté, if you don't already know it, is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine and a handy technique to master. You'll use it as base for gravies and soups and more.
This is a fairly thick velouté enriched with cream. Some nice chunks of potato give the dish some heft and help thicken things up even further, so I'd add that as a staple ingredient along with a buttery crust. Outside of that, you can add what you like.
For the Sauce
2 quarts dark stock (chicken, beef or vegetable to match your main ingredients)
6 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
½ cup flour
½ cup cream
For the Pie
2 cups of assorted previously cooked meat such as chicken, turkey, beef or lamb
2 cups previously cooked vegetables or 4 cups if you want to forgo the meat and make this a vegetarian pie
1 pound of potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch dice and par-boiled or steamed until almost tender
Salt and pepper
1-9 x 13 sheet puff pastry
In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer, lower the heat and keep warm.
In a large heavy bottomed pot, sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, whisk in the flour and cook, continuing to whisk, for three to five minutes. Slowly add the stock a little at a time, whisking all the while until all of the stock is incorporated. Simmer on low for ten minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching.
Add the previously cooked ingredients and potatoes and simmer until heated through. Transfer mixture to a 4-quart heat proof casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 375F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry so that it is slightly bigger than the top of your casserole dish. Moisten the top of your dish with a little water. Place the pastry over the dish and press gently to seal. Brush with egg and pierce the pastry in several places to allow steam to escape. Place the pot pie on a cookie sheet to catch any spillover. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
Recipe: Shephard's Pie
This is the most prescripted of all of these upcycled pie recipes. But while it offers the least amount of room for improvisation it uses an ingredient that we frequently have left over or can intentionally make a little extra of - mashed potatoes. Having the potatoes on hand means that this dish comes together in a flash. With just about twenty minutes of hands-on time and then a little window to help with homework or just kick your feet up while the casserole gets to bubbling and you are set to dig in.
2-4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
Salt and pepper
2 pounds ground lamb (traditional) or beef, preferably grass-fed
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce or HP sauce
½ cup frozen piece and ½ cup frozen corn or 1 cup assorted leftover vegetables, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a medium bowl, combine potatoes and egg and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375F.
In a medium pan, sauté lamb or beef over medium heat until well browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat to a bowl. Sauté the onion and carrots in the drippings until the onion is translucent and the carrot has softened, about three to five minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute. Add the flour and whisk for a minute or two to cook off some of the raw flour taste. Add the tomato paste and whisk to combine. Slowly add the stock, whisking constantly until smooth. Add the thyme, Worcestershire or HP and stir. Return the meat to the pot and add the vegetables. Simmer for five minutes to defrost any frozen vegetables and allow the flavors to blend.
Transfer the mixture to a three-quart casserole. Spoon the potato mixture on top and smooth to an even thickness. Create a cross-hatch pattern in the potatoes by first scraping a fork across the top vertically and then horizontally. Drizzle the melted butter over the potatoes.
Place the casserole on a cookie sheet and place in the middle of the oven. Bake until browned and bubbling, about twenty minutes. Cool for five to ten minutes and serve.