June 5th, 2008, by Ben
Ben, here. Despite rumors to the contrary, Francesca has not been starving me nor threatening me with knives. Shame on you for thinking that. It’s simply been the case that I have either been programming or eating, with little time in between to post about these exquisite dishes she brings home.
I recently read in the New York Times that 27% of the food in America gets thrown out. And America is far from the worst offender. [If the topic interests you, more good reading at Wasted Food.] So, I decided to make it a higher priority not to throw out any food that makes it to us. This means deciding what to eat based on shelf life, not just my mood. It means trusting my senses about whether food has gone bad, and not blindly obeying excessively cautious "please don’t sue us" expiration dates and "danger zone" times-and-temperatures that Francesca must adhere to as a chef. And since we have a stream of food coming home now, I am the leftover king, and nothing exceeds my grasp.
Actually, more like Gray Beard, The Leftover Pirate™. The Governess Francesca stocks her refrigerator fortress high with delectable treasures, which she hopes to some day partake of when her duties permit. But when she returns from her voyages abroad, once again she finds her treasure trove plundered and empty. Aboard my frigate, I savor my spoils: “Avast, me hearty. I be of two minds twither a bottle o’ rum goes with chicken roulade. Mayhap we uncork a nice Beaujolais from ye cellar below decks? Arrr.” I imagine a wooden leg, and a hook-hand with a nice, flip-out cork screw attachment, for the fully equipped and high-tech food pirate.
I have fond memories of the occasional pot roast while growing up. Both of my parents worked non-standard hours, so slow-cooked items were great. Pot roasts were rare (meat loafs unfortunately less so), but always a good idea because one could be left to cook while you were away at work and it turns into leftovers so well: thinly sliced it could become sandwiches, cubed it could be added to bean-based soups, when coupled with a sauce from its juices it will reheat well without drying out, and it's so tender that it's one of the rare beef dishes that can even be eaten cold.
Francesca made a single-portion Italian pot roast [No Italians were harmed in the making of this roast. -Ed.], which upended some of these preconceptions. First off, I understand that they don’t have 8 hours to let it slow cook, which may be the primary reason to keep the dish small. Still, a pot roast usually is large, with half of it serving 6 people, and needs to be carved or sliced to serve it. Carving a roast is an art unto itself, one which generations of heads-of-the-table would pass on, parent to child, like grandma’s good silverware or the ability to wiggle your ears. Single serving? What were they thinking?
But these chefs seem to know a thing or two about food, and all the differences from what I expected now seem driven by the need to take advantage of what I (at first) thought was a shortcoming. A single serving has more surface area; so rub spices on all sides. A single serving won’t render much fat; add a complexity by using pancetta fat. A single serving won't cook long; make the flavors dense by reducing a sauce on the stove before it goes in the oven. Given their tendency to have the proto-chefs cut and chop everything they need, I even suspect that the dried herbs and spices were used not for their expediency but for some sinister and scrumptious purpose of which I am not privy.
Genius. Delicious. The sauce had tang without the dish being about the sauce. The meat was tender and moist, despite being reheated. The oregano and herbs were obviously present, but didn’t turn this dish into yet another “inspired by real Italian cooking” American concoction. My only complaint: it was a single serving.
What’s a poor leftover pirate to do when he can't go back for seconds? “Jolly Roger,” my wooden leg! Hrmph.