Careful thought can ease your workload considerably, if that’s how you think of cooking, by squeezing three dinners from one initial cooking. It’s a novel way of viewing leftovers in that you’re not using them so much as you are making leftovers to be used according to a plan.
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First, in the method that follows, you’re not simply using leftovers, you’re following a game plan to create three nights of family dinners for four by using the foods from the first meal for the second meal and from the first and second meals for the third meal. You’ll add one or two foods to subsequent dinners Nos. 2 and 3. You can do all of this for about $40.
Ideally, dinner No. 1 should begin on a Sunday morning as you’ll be making a boiled dinner that can cook slowly all day either in a large slow cooker or on the stove top if your cook top has a simmer-control setting. A simmer-control setting is so low that a pot of water set on top of it will never boil; it will only shimmer on top.
The first meal is based on a New England boiled dinner, a family meal that was far more popular in the early 20th century than today and something of a misnomer as one never actually boils the chicken but rather poaches it. The second meal is based on an Alpine-type of baked casserole au gratin with fontina cheese. The third meal is based on a root vegetable soup purée with chunks of meat and vegetables.
First Dinner: Boiled Dinner
Prep time: About 30 minutes
Cook time: 3-9 hours
Yield: 4 servings
One 4-pound chicken
2 pounds fresh kielbasa sausage or mild Italian sausage
1¾ pounds boiling potatoes, such as small Yukon gold or fingerling, peeled
1½ pounds fat carrots, scraped and cut in half
1 pound (7 or 8) small onions, peeled
1½ pounds fat parsnips, scraped
1¼ pound small turnips (7 or 8), trimmed of tops
2 small celery roots (1 pound), trimmed and peeled
2 celery stalks, cut in half
50 garlic cloves
Bouquet garni, tied in cheesecloth, consisting of parsley, celery stalk top, marjoram, bay leaf, and oregano
Water as needed
Salt to taste
1. Wrap the chicken in cheesecloth and tie off with kitchen twine. Place in a large stockpot with the sausage, potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, turnips, celery root, celery stalk, garlic, bouquet garni and peppercorns and cover with water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a near boil. Reduce the heat to very low the minute you see a bubble or two rise to the surface. Cook until all the foods are very tender, about 9 hours with a simmer control and about 3 hours without. At no time should the water boil; it should only shimmer on top. About halfway through the cooking, season a bit with salt. Bring to just below a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to low, so it is just shimmering on the surface.
2. Remove the chicken and unwrap from the kitchen twine. Set the chicken in the middle of a large round platter. It will be so well-cooked it will collapse unless you handle it gently. Surround with all the other meats and vegetables except for the celery stalk and bouquet garni, which you will discard. Serve with any two of these accompaniments: horseradish with apple, Bavarian mustard, Cajun mustard, regular mustard, Mostarda di Cremona, apple sauce or hot sauce of your choice.
3. Save all food not eaten.
4. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and return to a pot. Boil until the broth is reduce by a third. Cool and save.
Second Dinner: Baked Casserole au Gratin
Prep time: about 10 minutes
Cook time: 1¼ hours
Yield: 4 servings
Leftovers from boiled dinner, sliced
2½ ounces smoked slab bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, pork lard or duck fat
½ pound cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 slices (about 2 ounces) French or Italian country bread
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cinnamon
¾ pound fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, in thin slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, in thin slivers
2 cups chicken broth (from first meal)
1. Remove the meat from the chicken and discard the carcass. Chop or slice the chicken and sausage keeping them separated. Slice all the vegetables but keep them separate. Remove half of everything and set aside for meal No. 3.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
3. In a sauté pan, cook, stirring, the bacon and cooking fat over medium heat until almost crispy, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and a little water to deglaze the pan and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In four 8 x 1½-inch baking casseroles, or one larger baking casserole, or similar ovenproof vessel, place the bread and then layer half the leftovers on top and half the cabbage and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Layer half the fontina cheese and then another layer of leftovers and cabbage and finally some slivers of butter. Finish with one more layer of cheese and butter. Pour ½ cup broth into each casserole and bake until golden brown and bubbling, 55 to 60 minutes. Serve hot.
Third Dinner: Root Vegetable Purée With Chicken and Sausage
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Leftover vegetables from dinner one
3½ cups chicken broth (from first meal)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces fresh or frozen peas
Leftover meat from dinner one
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
4 slices (about 2 ounces) Italian or French country bread, pan-fried in butter until golden brown
1. Place all the leftover vegetables in a food processor with 2 cups broth and blend in pulses at first then continuously until smooth. Transfer to a soup pot with the cream, peas, remaining meat leftovers, remaining broth and ground ginger and heat over low heat until hot. Check the seasoning. Serve with bread.
Main photo: New England boiled dinner with chicken and vegetables. Credit: Clifford A. Wright