I read an article online somewhere (but can no longer remember where) about food waste, and was shocked that loads of people in the comments were saying that they hated leftovers, and even the thought of leftovers. On further reading, these people were just reheating their old meal. This has a place for some meals, especially if you take the leftovers to work for a cheap lunch. I have done this many times, but only for certain things – some foods just taste horrible when reheated in the microwave.
To me, the whole point of leftovers is actually what might be termed “upcycling” in other areas that use waste. I have mentioned before that I am not fond of the term “food waste”, when describing bits and bobs of perfectly edible food. Once you stop seeing leftovers as the same tired (or even stale) meal from dinners past, and start seeing leftover food as ingredients it’s like opening a gate to a whole new world of delicious dinners. This is where you can really let your creativity flow – the trick is actually to get meal that is a reminder of that lovely supper, but is different enough to maintain interest, and keep you excited about the ingredient. After all, it is this kind of thinking that has led to a number of delectable pie fillings, moussaka, or shepherds pie, not to mention numerous soups, and stir fries!
I love gravy. I always make mine from scratch, and it is an invaluable way to stretch out leftovers. The gravy I made for the duck was actually with rabbit stock (I may also have mentioned that I like to make stock too…), which was actually more meaty than I had anticipated. I think I will use chicken stock for making gravy to go with a duck in the future.
It was still great gravy, and I have been plotting the best use of this. Because of the glaze, the gravy had already got a hint of Asian spice, so I was thinking along the lines of chinese flavours. Having eaten meat yesterday, I wanted the dish today to be mostly plant based. For some reason, I fancied pak choi as well. Then I had it – it was close enough to pak choi in oyster sauce, and so I decided I was going to do something like this. I knew that the gravy would be great in a dish like this, and would be a lovely balance for the iron tang of the greens.
I also have a thing about polenta. I love it with any dish with a sauce to mop up. I often have it instead of mashed potatoes to accompany stews and casseroles. And it is so easy. I made up a wet polenta, which should have a similar consistency to mash, but it holds gravy better in delicious pools, cuddled by the fluffy maize. If you do not share my joy in cornmeal, this dish would also be great with rice.
Of course, making polenta means that you can fry any leftovers up the next day until a golden crust has formed. Then you can eat it with a tomato based ragu; or a few mushrooms in garlic; or some shredded duck; or some herbs and tomatoes; or…well, I think you get the picture.
Recipe: Asian Inspired Gravy and Greens
A little oil or duck fat for frying
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
100 g mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch chilli flakes
1 medium carrot, sliced
Pak choi – ½ large or 2 baby ones
2 star anise
200 ml gravy
Water to cover
150 g polenta
700 ml boiling water
75 g grated cheese (eg piquant belegen or mature cheddar)
Prepare the vegetables. Cook the onion in the oil, on a medium heat, until they are translucent. Add the leek and the mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms look done to you. You don’t want the leeks to catch, so you will need to stir the veg.
I like my carrots to retain their crunch, so I don’t ike them to sweat for too long. If you are like me, add them now. If you like them softer add them with the onion at the start of cooking.
Add the garlic and chilli, and cook until the scent hits you, them pour in the gravy, star anise and any water that is necessary to cover the vegetables. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
Start with 700 ml of boiling water in a deep saucepan. Shake the polenta into the water, and whisk to combine. If you do it the other way around, you will get lumpy polenta, and it won’t cook through properly. I often use stock to add flavour to the polenta, bu the gravy was rich enough to carry it in this case, so water was fine.
As you whisk the polenta will thicken, and start to sputter. You can turn the heat down a little at this point, and allow it to cook through for 5-10 minutes, whisking occasionally.
As the polenta is sputtering away, cut the pak choi in half or quarters lengthways. You want the stalks to remain attached to each other, so it retains it’s shape. Add it to the gravy mixture, and push it under the liquid, so that it wilts.
When the polenta is cooked, add the cheese, and a fair bit of pepper, and stir it in thoroughly.
Serve the polenta so it forms a sort of well on the plate, with the gravy and vegetables on top.