Learn to Love Cooking with Leftovers


I get bored way too easily to eat the same reheated soup, sauce or casserole two or three days in a row, but that said, I do love cooking with leftovers. My favorite way of cooking with leftovers — either those I cooked myself or brought home from a local eatery — is to use them as an ingredient in a totally different dish. The same holds true for produce that’s about to go South, or stale bread that’s too good to toss. The three recipes below are ripe for substitutions, and all can be eaten at any time of day.

If you want to get really meta, you can make enough extras for other lovely leftovers: the frittata is delicious cold, the granola is wonderful eaten out of hand, and roasted grapes make a swell addition to a chicken salad made from — you guessed it — leftover roasted chicken. Special thanks to Chef Jes Tantalo, who loves cooking with leftovers even more than I do, for brainstorming this baby.

Mushroom and Brown Rice Frittata

Serves 2

1 cup mushrooms, chopped or shredded with your hands

1-2 heaping teaspoons seasoning blend of your choice (taco, Cajun, etc.)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 eggs, beaten

½ cup leftover brown rice

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms. Sautee until the mushrooms begin to throw off liquid, and continue to cook until they are completely dry. Add seasoning and mix thoroughly, then add oil and heat until it sizzles.

Drop a bit of egg into the pan and if it sizzles and cooks at once, the pan is ready. Pour in the eggs and swirl the pan to distribute the eggs evenly over the surface. Shake the pan gently, tilting it slightly with one hand while lifting up the edges of the frittata with the spatula in your other hand, to let the eggs run underneath during the first few minutes of cooking. Once a few layers of egg have cooked during the first couple of minutes of cooking, sprinkle the rice evenly across the surface, turn the heat down to low, cover and cook 7 to 10 minutes, until the frittata is puffed and just about set. From time to time remove the lid and loosen the bottom of the omelet with a wooden or heat-proof rubber spatula, tilting the pan, so that the bottom doesn’t burn. It will however turn golden.

If the frittata is still runny on the top, slide the frittata out onto a saucepan lid that has a handle and flip lid so that the frittata goes back into the pan on its not-quite-cooked side. Finish for no longer than a minute, then reverse onto a platter. Allow to cool to room temperature, and serve, or chill. Cut into wedges and serve.

Kale and Black Olive Panzanella

Serves 6

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup shredded kale or other hearty green

1 stale baguette, cut or torn into chunks

1 pound ripe tomatoes, quartered (or use halved grape or cherry tomatoes)

¼ cup black olives

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Measure vinegar into a large, nonreactive bowl. Drizzle olive oil slowly into the bowl, whisking until the mixture is emulsified. Add kale and massage with your hands until kale is broken down.

Add stale bread, tomatoes and black olives and mix thoroughly, adding extra oil if the bread is not thoroughly saturated. Let sit for 15-20 minutes until the all of the ingredients absorb the oil, vinegar and the juice from the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste, give it another toss and serve. 

Roasted-Grape and Granola Parfaits

Serves 6

1 cup red and/or green grapes

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup pecans

pinch coarse salt

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400. Place grapes in a single layer on a lined sheet pan, and roast just until the skins begin to wrinkle, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the temp down to 300.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans and salt.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Spread granola over a lined sheet pan. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way. Remove granola from oven and let it cool.

Divide the grapes evenly between six glasses. Top with yogurt, garnish with granola and serve.

For more inspiration, visit our Recipe Archives.