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Tina LaiTIna Lai, Gourmet

Gourmet Make-Overs and Moms’ Leftovers

My mother was not a good cook. To be honest, her lacking culinary skills probably drove my father to take the helm at the kitchen. Consequently, he became a chef in his second career and thankfully because of this exchange of roles, we grew up with fond food memories and happy stomachs.

Mom believed in leftovers. She experienced such harsh penury in her childhood, growing up during the Second World War. Growing up in rural Taiwan every morsel of food was cherished: home-grown vegetables were salted and pickled, leftover rice was cooked into porridge, bones were boiled down to broth. It was hard to convince mom to throw away leftovers, as she was convinced that her reserves always came in handy for a last-minute meal.

In our busy lives, cooking for a family, it is true that a re-interpreted dish can be wonderfully practical and free our conscience from thinking of others who would be grateful for our seconds.

However, left-overs don’t have to be “sloppy-seconds” or an embalmed version of the original. With some sensitivity to dishes that taste great, second time around, you can make decisions when to make a few extra portions.

I have two of my favorites, what I will call gourmet make-overs: risotto and ratatouille. Both are simple to make and taste great on the first run as well as on the second run as appetizers.

P.S. Thanks Mom, for teaching me the blessing of food and to “have all I want and want all I have”.

BEFORE: Mushroom Risotto

2 cups of chopped mushrooms: porcini, shitake, oyster
1 tbs. of butter, 1tbs of olive oil
1 finely chopped shallot
1 cup of good quality Arborio or Carnoli
3 cups of beef stock
½ cup of white wine, room temperature
1 bay leaf
2 tbs of chopped parsley

There are a few little secrets to risotto: Always saute the rice grains with the shallots and oils and to keep your stock warm on the side. Add the mushrooms, bay leaf and 1 ladle-full of stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed, repeat until mushrooms are tender. Next keeping adding liquid, 2 ladle-full at a time or half a cup and gently stir the rice. Repeat until all liquid is gone. At the end, add wine, salt pepper and parsley.
Serve with grated parmigiano cheese.

AFTER: Arancini

Arancini are in the Italian language, “little oranges” . They are bite size rice balls, served usually as a snack or appetizer with wine. Use cold left-over risotto, shape them into balls, 1 inch in diameter. Dip them in a wash made of 1 beaten egg and 1 tbs of water. Dredge them in flour and fry in hot olive or vegetable oil.

You can eat these hot or cold , delicious with chilled Pinot Grigio.

I recently was hired for a cooking course for teenagers inspired by the hit movie, Ratatouille. Part of the theme was to re-create the ratatouille dish as it appeared in the movie with insanely, perfectly layered vegetables of the same size. Four versions later, from my own test runs, though I love the versatility of this dish, even I was ratatouilled out.

RatatouilleBEFORE: Oven Ratatouille

Sauce made with
1 cup of canned tomato puree
2 roasted red peppers, chopped and peeled
1 clove garlic minced
3 basil leafs, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf.
2 of each: zuchinni yellow or green, asian eggplant
4 roma tomatoes
(note: try matching size of vegetables in diameter for best results, this will give you the uniform layering. If you want to have leftovers, double the recipe. If you are going to roast peppers, why not roast a few extra and keep them in a jar for a tasty addition to sandwiches and salads?)

Spread sauce on the bottom of a round 10” baking pan. Alternate vegetables overlapping one another in concentric rings until the pan is completely covered. Drizzle generously with olive oil, salt & pepper. Cut-out from baking paper, a sheet with the same diameter of pan. Place over the vegetables, pressing down.

Bake in an oven: 275 degrees for about 90 minutes.
This is a slow-cook dish, making the vegetables melt in your mouth.

LasagneAFTER: Vegetable Lasagna

There are so many ways to use the left-overs of ratatouille : in sandwiches, in omelettes, in pasta, in quiches. But my favorite is in vegetable lasagna.

8 sheets of Lasagna Pasta
2 cups of Ratatouille (add a ½ cup of water, if the sauce has evaporated)
1 cup of mozzarella

Alternate starting with sauce, ending with sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella and…

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