It’s Not Rocket Surgery

A blog is a useful thing for documenting daily matters, among which surely food. But it’s not quite ideal for the sort of ongoing, evolving festival of frugality that comprises the majority of our meals. So this post is a truncated attempt to show how it is that certain leftovers, strategically deployed, can make for a richer repertoire of weeknight dinners with no extra work whatsoever.

To begin, a pumpkin. Or half a pumpkin, to be fair, and some portion of a butternut squash as well, both left over from Thanksgiving prep (I forgot to mention that the polenta from that meal also had roasted butternut purée whisked into it. It made sweet, sweet love with the corn and the Camembert). So I took the remaining halves, peeled them, cooked them in a quart of the defrosted duck phở, then blended them to a silky smoothness and strained them for maximum velvetude. Garnished with a dollop of local crème fraîche to which I added a fat pinch of chiffonaded sage leaves, it made for a slightly more interesting version of a standard autumnal trope. But it gets better.

A few nights later, I had a hankering for lamb curry. So I took some (local, of course; I’m going to stop using this modifier altogether because you should know by now) lamb stew meat–some with bone, some without, for maximum flavor–and cut the boneless meat into quarters for faster cooking, since lamb takes a while to get tender if it’s cooked much past rare. I browned it, then added copious chopped onion and a mix of whole and blended spices, half a head of deconstructed cauliflower, a small can of coconut milk, and–wait for it–the rest of the squash soup. And let it bubble low and slow for the better part of an hour, checking periodically to make sure it wasn’t sticking.

Utterly simple, but beguiling in its depth and completeness of flavor. The intangibles–the bench, as it were (“intangibles” made me think of boilerplate post game sports speak) like duck phở in your leftover two-squash soup, and the luxe thickness it imparts to dinner days later–are the factors that allow homemade food to be BETTER than food you pay lots of money for. You just have to embrace them, and use them to inform your dinner choices. Don’t leave them to grow hair and get thrown away; leftovers are equity and a few days in the fridge add value, marrying flavors in a way simply not possible à la minute. This curry was unctuousity incarnate, and the flavor was rich and profoundly satisfying on a cold, rainy night.

The next night, running a little late (I had to weigh down various of the raised beds in the garden with bricks and rocks because the stream flooded to unprecedented height, i.e. well into the garden, washing away untold quantities of my precious soil and compost because it was 60˚ and sheeting rain on December first because Al Gore is fat) I grabbed some duck sausage out of the chest freezer and got busy. The lamb bones, saved from that wondrous curry, went in a sauce pan with water to simmer into a lovely curry-scented stock. The sausage defrosted along with a one-cup bag of mirepoix in a big bowl of water. I peeled, sliced, and steamed a couple of sweet potatoes, then puréed them with their steaming water, a bit of yogurt, and salt.

I trimmed some brussels sprouts, and caramelized them in sunflower oil, then added the bag of mirepoix, then a ladle of the lamb stock, then covered the pan to steam them home. I cooked the sausage in another pan, and removed them to a covered plate when cooked. Flour in the sausage fat, then curried lamb stock whisked in to make a beautiful gravy. A little lemon in the gravy and homemade red wine vinegar in the sprouts to add an acidic counterweight to all that fat, and there’s dinner. Best of all, though–and this brings me back to my initial frustration with this medium–there is enough of the sweet potato mixture left to make for excellent gnocchi or the topping for a shepherd’s pie in another day or two. And the rest of the gravy could make a nice addition to the sauce. It just keeps going. Stay tuned.

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  1. December 1

    You always have meals going like an eight-day clock; it’s one of the things I most admire about your cooking. The idea of using the squash soup as a base for curry is brilliant. I’m stealing that for tomorrow’s dinner – I have soup left but neither I nor My Beloved is enthusiastic about it for the fourth time. It will make great curry, however, with the leftover roasted chicken we won’t quite finish tonight. And the beat goes on!

  2. December 2

    Thank you, very useful. I wasnt really a big fan of Spinach for many years (ok, that’s a total lie, I hated the stuff), but after shacking up with a vegetarian I kind of had to get used to it, and have slowly come to absolutely love the stuff. Spinach curry is undoubtedly my absolute favourite! I recently found an entire spinach recipes website which is my new favourite site now, you should have a look!

  3. December 2

    No matter how many of your posts I read, I am still in awe at the things you happen to have lying around your kitchen.

    No, it’s not rocket surgery to cook this great stuff. It’s as easy as mixing your metaphors! 😉

  4. December 2

    i’m just so glad that i taught you how to cook and write…

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