Get Cooking: When cooking too much food isn’t a mistake

Let’s talk about that time when cooking too much was not a mistake.

Not the time — or times — when you overestimated how much your family or guests might eat. Or the time (maybe the times) you cooked every recipe profiled on that cooking show that you watched while quarantined so many days last year.

No, I mean the time — and, I hope, times — that you cooked “too much” food on one day and used it for a meal or three down the week. The large pot of brown rice, say, that you lovingly coaxed to perfection for an hour on your stovetop one Sunday afternoon and spread out later over three delicious (and different) dinners.

Or that time when you got carried away at the farmers market, buying that bushel of corn you thought you’d never see again. Or the time when a big pot of something warmly delicious and comforting went into several containers for the freezer and, thence, onward to table times beyond.

We have a double-edged issue with time and times, we American cooks. On the one hand, we cook for the day — say, tonight’s family dinner — and, in our rush, we oftentimes settle for something someone else cooked for us, a processed meal or takeout, or we just go out. Cooking “scratch” takes more time than we want to cook that day.

Or, on the other hand (and what’s worse to my mind), we treat the kitchen like the gym and use it as a proving ground for our efforts, vaulting over a recipe and through its instructions — invariably  a complicated one, word-for-word a tour de force — to demonstrate something to ourselves or, again worse, others. As such, recipes do not unfold their stories on our stoves; we conquer them there.

Cooking (or avoiding cooking) either way is unhealthy, and in different but significant meanings of “unhealthy,” too.

I write often about leftovers, not only because I love them, but because I honor them. I write here about “meant-overs,” raw or simple foods we purposively prepare (or purchase) in abundance one time and use again and again a few or several more times.

Grains are a great example. They often take time to prepare — and so we avoid preparing them on a given day because we do not wish to spend that time that day.

But prepared one day, a large amount of brown rice, for example, makes a pilaf for Sunday dinner, stretches a burger on Tuesday, and plays a part in a grain and pulse medley on a meatless Friday.

Or cooked French green lentils (sturdy little buggers, if ever a lentil was) can stick around the refrigerator for a good week and perform roles in three or four different weekday meals. Quinoa is a complete protein and, washed of its protective sheen of saponin, likewise delivers on diversity (and takes little time to prepare).

Barley, farro, bulgur, so many legumes and beans, all available for cooking ahead, using some now and some more later again. “Meant-overs.”

And when the time comes — soon again, glory be — when you indeed can buy that bushel of fresh corn, go ahead. Its cobs and kernels are good for many meals after the first happy boil.

Green Lentils with Italian Sausage and Rapini

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 Italian-style pork sausages
  • 3/4 dry white wine (or light apple juice or cider)
  • 8 ounces rapini (broccoli rabe), about 1 small bunch, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (such as Urfa, Aleppo or pizza-style)
  • 2 cups cooked French green lentils, warmed
  • Blue cheese crumbles, to taste

Directions

  1. Brown the sausages in a skillet over medium-high heat. When well-browned, set them aside. Deglaze the skillet with the wine or juice, scraping up any brown bits and reducing the liquid to 3-4 tablespoons’ worth. Turn off the heat.
  2. Slice the sausages into “coins” and return them to the skillet. Add the rapini, salt and pepper flakes and toss. Raise the heat to cook the rapini and heat through the sausages, covered, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lentils and warm everything through. Serve, garnished with the blue cheese to taste.

Maque choux

Pronounced “mock shoe,” this dish originates in an amalgam of the cooking of Acadians (French Canadians emigrated to southern Louisiana) and southern Native Americans. The name may mean “mock cabbage” (“choux” means “cabbage” in French) as some Acadians used to add cabbage to the dish as well. Makes 4 servings as a side or 2 as a main.

Ingredients

  • 4 strips bacon, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 each: green bell pepper, red bell pepper and jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups corn (1 10-ounce package frozen and thawed, or about 4 ears fresh corn, kernels sliced away)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/3 teaspoon dried)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 leaves basil

Directions

  1. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Add the celery, onion and all the chopped peppers. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
  2. If using fresh cobbed corn, scrape the dull side of the knife to press the corn “milk” from the cob. Add the corn (and any corn milk) to the skillet, stirring to blend. Season with the thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables begin to brown. Remove from heat. Roughly tear the basil leaves into pieces over the vegetables.

 

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