If you’re like me, you might have a couple of grilled chops hanging out in the back of the fridge from Monday’s dinner, some mac and cheese from Sunday when you had friends over for a game and chicken parts from Wednesday’s supper. Or maybe link of sausage or two, a hunk of beef or pork or duck breast and you’re watching the calendar wondering when botulism will check in and kill you.
To go with leftover proteins wrapped in foil, Saran Wrap or hiding in Dollar Store plastic containers, I usually have a few sticks of partially wilted celery, some tired carrots, maybe a few stringy string beans and the requisite onions and little potatoes that are now sold in branded shiny little bags with fancy prices. A potato is a potato as long as it hasn’t sprouted eyes bigger than mine, so for our purposes, we’ll call ‘em spuds.
Now, you might be tempted to toss this dross into the bio recycling, which probably ends up as landfill anyway. But, before waving the white flag on your remnants, consider making them dinner for four.
This is a modern variation on the stew pot of settlers of old, where one day you threw in a squirrel and another a rabbit or the old family dog. Everything was fair game as long as you kept it simmering. If you’re partial to squirrel, and you have leftovers, go ahead. It’s your secret. You’ll have a great meal with little fuss in little time and you’ll get a relatively clean fridge out of the deal so you can start loading it up again.
The only thing I’d add to the above is chicken stock. Don’t frown, but using store-bought now does not mean MSG-laced Bovril glop or cubes anymore. Campbell’s and others now sell decent stock from from $1.49 to $2.99 depending on the store and the day of the week. Loblaws has it at various prices depending on atmospheric pressure or the humidity index but always attaches “Sale!” to it whatever the price, lest you think you’re getting ripped off.
The stuff is actually made with chicken stock, or so it says, and vegetables and if you can overlook the bit of poison known as glucose, it adds flavour and makes the entire endeavour easier and tastier. Yes, real stock is better, if you have it. Or just add water.
If you’re going to fetch stock, pick up a lime or two but lemon will do in a pinch.
To cook this soup or stew, the difference being the amount of water you’re going to add and hence the quantities of spice, gently sauté the chopped onion. You can do that with a few cloves of garlic, but, if you’re feeling lazy and this is a lazy man or woman’s dish, you can throw it in later.
Then, take all the cooked stuff, slice it or dice it or throw it whole in to flavour the broth. It’s your call. It’s fridge free-style. Marry it with the wilted vegetables buried in the box, chopped or whole, and dump it in the pot.
I like using a cast iron dutch oven but use what you have. Save the mac and cheese, if you got it, for when you’re ready to eat. Simmering pasta for hours will taste like limp white bread for people without teeth.
When you’ve filled the pot with your haggard proteins and soggy vegetables, cover with stock, a bit of wine if you have it and, if you want additional liquid for soup, some nice, fresh, cold water.
Add the juice of a lime, salt, pepper, smoked paprika or any paprika, cinnamon, a little sugar, and whatever else you think can crank up the flavour. Sometimes I throw in coriander that’s been pulsed through a food machine or blender. Or oregano and basil, a few pepper flakes. It’s your show.
Then simmer the concoction – simmer –not boil, until it’s ready. It’s ready when you think it’s ready. We’re not talking Ripert, Batali or Oliver here. It’s just us. On slow simmer, maybe two or three hours. Nice and slow and it scents the house beautifully on a winter day. Or night.
If you want, when you’re ready to serve it and you have that mac and cheese, throw how many servings of soup or stew you need into another smaller pot and add a few tablespoons of mac and cheese and serve when hot. No mac and cheese? You can throw in some cooked egg noodles or small pasta like farfalle or orecchiette. I prefer Italian pasta. The wheat is harder. Or not.
Make it a soup or make it a stew but make it a meal. Cost you almost nothing and spares landfill and saves methane. And you can feel righteous.