Use It Or Lose It

This is a little hard to see, because everything is roughly the same color, but the flavors were all distinct. It was also mostly leftovers, reinvented to make something entirely new.

The things in the fridge that inspired the meal were as follows: a container of sweet potato purée, the crab shells from a few nights ago, and some sad, soggy French fries from restaurant burgers I brought home recently after a meeting went too long for me to make dinner.

I made a quick stock with the crab shells; they were still covered in sauce and kale from the meal, so I didn’t need to add anything else. After about half an hour of simmering, I strained the stock and then reduced it by about 75 percent, adding a bit of the smoked salsa, a pinch of saffron, and some sherry vinegar, and then whisked in a big knob of butter to thicken and silkify it into a sauce.

The purée became gnocchi; I beat in a couple eggs and a bit of flour, and then loaded up the pastry bag and piped them directly into the iron skillet that I had lubed with a generous spoonful of duck fat. Gnocchi are a superb use for purées of many kinds, and using a pastry bag to squeeze them directly into boiling water or hot oil saves having to futz around with their texture and then roll them out. Once those were browned all over, I took them out and dumped in the fries, which I had cut into dice. The restaurant that made them throws branches of rosemary in the oil with their fries, so I cut up a bunch of fried leaves and added them as well. A few minutes in a hot pan can revive even the limpest of fries, and when they’re cut up like this, they serve as a delightful garnish. I also roasted a cauliflower, cut into florets, with olive oil and smoked paprika.

Gnocchi, rich sauce, roasted flowers, and crunchy topping: a hearty ode to frugality and winter austerity that elegantly belied its humble origins. I harp on this a lot, but leftovers are a meaningful component of an efficient home cooking practice, and they offer valuable inspiration and value-added flavors and textures to thrown-together weeknight improvs like this. They also offer the possibility of adding the depth and richness of animal flavors to a meal without using actual pieces of animal anywhere in said meal; the crab and duck made this much more special than it otherwise would have been, and it did them justice by using every bit of flavor and nutrition that they had.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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