I blather on regularly about how leftovers are a blessing rather than a curse, and how having a family with a low tolerance for them makes me a better cook because I have to innovate and transform the remnants of last night’s dinner into something new and different if I want it to get eaten and thus make room in the fridge for either A) a giant pork butt or B) uneaten portions of a meal to be named later. And it’s true. I spend far too much time thinking about how great it would be if I had all day every day to cook, drilling down into the experimentation, fabrication, and execution that leads to a deep relationship with techniques and results. But in the absence of that life of leisure, leftovers are the next best thing.
They’re flavor equity that can be cashed in to make for much more interesting subsequent meals on short notice. The deeper, richer taste of stews made the day before is not accidental; some foods just need more time to taste their best. And sometimes it’s just wonderful to have something ready to deploy without having to prep and roast it first. Like a squash, for example.
There was three quarters of a roasted kabocha sitting in the fridge yesterday, and it made the difference between ordering out for $50 worth of mediocre food from a joint in town and the frugal, fragrant, flagrantly sensual treat we ended up eating instead. It required an assist from pantry, garden, and freezer, but that is after all what they are there for. This meal was an object lesson in how easy good food can be if you have what you need on hand.
The pantry provided arborio rice, something I always try to have around for nights like this one. And that is because the freezer always has some stock in it, so risotto is never more than half an hour away. The stock in question this time was a batch of phở I made using beef, lamb, and duck bones, with a light touch on the aromatics. It’s delicate and sublime, with the spices embellishing simpler fare like this with just the right amount of ornament. And the garden offered up a variety of greens and herbs: radishes, kale, red mustard, and parsley.
I made the risotto per usual, whisking in the roasted squash after the rice had a chance to get used to its new situation, following it with radishes and greens and ladles of phở. As it approached al dentitude, I poured in some milk for the mantecare portion of the program, beating it in with extreme prejudice. The bright red flecks of radish were particularly fetching against the deep yellow rice, which was creamy and unctuous with the roasted squash and faintly perfumed with the cinnamon, clove, anise, and ginger of the phở: spices that happen to play extremely well with squash.
So there it is: if you can make stock once a week and freeze it, and keep your pantry supplied with dry goods, and have something fresh and green on hand, there’s no earthly excuse not to make dinner, even on a night as late and lazy as last. So much pleasure and lingering well-being hinged on my mental rummaging through the fridge and cabinets, followed quickly by the realization that this most elegant of phone-ins was going to save the day. I worked until 5:30 and had this steaming bowl of autumnal goodness on the table by 6.