New Year’s Eve: Leftovers to Lasagna in an hour

Shockingly, there are some people in this world who refuse to eat leftovers entirely. To be sure, there are few things that are actually better the next day (mostly stews, curries, and chilis) but the prospect of a meal made entirely of warmed-over food from a previous meal is a reality that faces all home cooks that don’t have the luxury of cooking exactly the amount of food they can eat in one sitting for every meal.

It was talking with Jody at work today that reminded me of my Grandmother’s practice of keeping leftovers in her deep freeze. When I was younger, and I was ill and too young to stay at home by myself, Mom or Dad would drop me off at Grandma’s house in Downtown Anchorage (as long as it wasn’t Monday, when she volunteered to run the cash register at the gift shop in the Pioneer Poke, the gift shop at the Pioneer Home, or Wednesday, when she ran the cash register at the Dimond Transit Center in South Anchorage). Typically winter, and typically with a cold, I’d be bundled off to Grandma’s floor level condo soon after breakfast, and lunch would always be gallons of instant iced tea and soup from the freezer. She’d make big batches of soup which she froze in leftover Cool Whip containers in her deep freeze.

The recipe died with her in 2010, for I’m sure she never wrote it down or named it, and whenever I asked her what it was “vegetable soup” was the inevitable reply. I suspect the recipe is kept with our relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, for when we visited her sister in 1996 I was presented with a bowl of mysteriously familiar looking soup, which I was informed was traditionally eaten over rice in that part of the country. The closest I”ve had since would be a sort of gumbo, made with what seemed to be leftover pork or roast beef, lots of okra and zucchini, and plenty of pepper. Whether it was the amount of pepper or the fact that it had been in the freezer for years that made it not only delicious but a surefire cure for my cold I could never work out, but it remains stuck in my memory.

Speaking of leftovers, I had plenty on hand at home that needed to be used. The leftovers were ratatouille, which is great fresh, but after a day or two in the fridge, covered with droplets of moisture, the eggplant begins to look a little gray and the rest of the vegetables begin to look wan. Simply reheating would never do, but the secret to using leftovers, I say, is “don’t reheat, recomplete!” Ratatouille is great for this, since it’s basically a glorified mirepoix, which is the base of almost any classic dish. A good amount of it went into an omelet over the weekend (it’s also great for quiche) and the rest, I thought, would be perfect for a vegetable lasagna with a minimum of fuss or effort.

So I stopped off at Whole Foods after work (I particularly like their no-boil lasagna and their house brand of pasta sauces) and Tom Thumb (for things like Diet Pepsi which have aspartame, which Whole Foods has banned, and because their cheese selection is cheaper) and after about $10 I had what I needed for the next several meals (and incidentally the next several sets of leftovers). Although several meals I suppose will mean several meals worth of leftovers, but lasagna is akin to soups and stews for being one of those things that’s actually better reheated.

So I took the old (rather sad to just reheat, isn’t it?) :

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Added the new:

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And voila! A brand New Year’s Eve dinner for one!

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Someday I’ll get around to figuring out how to make Grandma’s soup, because it’s a winner, but for now, here’s the recipe for tonight’s invention. Enjoy it in good health and prosperity in the coming year.

Recompleted Leftover Vegetable Lasagna

1 packet No Boil Lasagna

1 jar pasta sauce (I use Whole Foods Roasted Garlic)

2 cups ricotta cheese

4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups fresh grated whole milk mozzarella cheese

Leftover vegetables or ratatouille (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat ricotta together with one egg, two tablespoons of the parmesan, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste until light and fluffy. Make sure egg is incorporated completely. Layer pasta sheets in pan and cover with half the ricotta mixture, half the vegetables, a quarter of the sauce, and half a cup of the mozzarella. Add another layer of pasta sheets and add the rest of the ricotta, vegetables, and quarter of the sauce. Add another layer of pasta sheets and top with rest of sauce, mozarrella and parmesan. Bake, covered with foil for a half hour. Remove foil and bake uncovered for ten minutes until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. About nine 3″ square servings

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