10 Apr 2020

How to love lockdown leftovers

5:07 pm on 10 April 2020

If American modernist writer William Carlos Williams was in lockdown, his famous and much-memed 'Just to say' poem might look something like this:

I have eaten

the leftover pasta

that was in

the fridge

and which

you were probably


for lunch

Forgive me

it was so delicious

reheated with the lentils

and more cheese

Even if you love cooking, turning out three meals a day - plus the all-important snacks - for your bubble has probably turned into a bit of a chore by now.

It's not just the actual act of making the food, it's the thinking about it. Under normal circumstances (and if you're not worried about money), thinking about what to cook is usually a lovely thing to do.

No caption

Photo: Supplied

But factor in that you're now likely to be doing it while juggling work, parenting and a multitude of lack-of-income-related worries, and it's enough to make anyone reach for a can of baked beans. Except you'd have to have bought them from somewhere first, and I don't know about you but queuing to buy the most revolting thing ever put in a tin is not high on my list of must-dos.

There are two tricks to managing this cook-eat-clean-repeat cycle without resorting to a perpetual diet of cheese toasties. The first is what I loftily call 'menu planning', where you write down all the things you'd like to be eating in the next week. Then you rip that up and write a list of all the things you can afford to cook and eat in the current environment.

That means thinking about breakfasts, lunches, dinners and interim boredom fillers like biscuits and cake. If it helps, imagine you're running a bed and breakfast (I feel like this most of the time anyway). Remind the 'guests' that there's a war on and some menu choices may be unavailable.

Then, write your shopping list accordingly (if you're not doing the shopping yourself, you may need to craft the list so the designated shopper can pivot to certain substitutions).

The next trick - before you go to the supermarket - is to think about the leftover potential of everything you're planning to make. Everything. Is porridge on the breakfast menu? Leftovers can be turned into porridge bread (for the next day's toast, or lunch). Leftover bits of stale home-made bread? Turn them into crumbs, crostini (that's posh for 'toast'), or what my mum used to call 'Poor Man's Soufflé' (butter the bread, layer it with cheese in a soufflé dish, pour over beaten eggs and milk and chill overnight, then bake until golden and risen).

Feel like splashing out on chicken tonight? Buy a whole one and roast it with lots of vegetables. Save as much of the chicken and vegetables as you can (hide them in the fridge away from grazers), then re-purpose it into a chicken and vegetable pie. Beat an egg or two with some yoghurt, fold through the chopped chicken and vegetables, and wrap in filo pastry or plop the mixture in a pie dish and cover with those breadcrumbs you prepared earlier.

The next day, simmer the chicken bones and some vegetable trimmings in water for a couple of hours (it's not like you have anywhere to go) and use in a risotto or soup. At the risk of stating the obvious, leftover cold pasta can be transformed by covering it in a shower of grated cheese and baking it in the oven.

Leftovers really come into their own when you've had a crappy day and you just can't face the prospect of cooking again. However, if there's pushback from your bubble mates about eating them, you may need to be somewhat canny in how you present any repurposed meals. Letting a bit of time elapse between the original meal and the re-drawn version can help.

Remember that your freezer is your friend - as long as you observe food safety rules. Let something cool completely before freezing it (but don't let it sit out at room temperature for hours and hours first). Make sure the dish is thawed and reheated thoroughly before serving.

If all else fails, tell everyone that they've got their wish and it will be cheese toasties for dinner. But make them insert some leftovers into the mix too. Good luck!

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs