Creative leftovers

Some people really like meat on their pizza.  They think it’s the only way to enjoy a pizza, and they won’t be convinced otherwise.  It seems the viscous pools of orange fat that top a cheese pizza aren’t quite enough to make their arteries quiver in anticipation, and the only way to rectify the situation is to add another source of orange saturated fat in the form of pepperoni or sausage.  Or bacon.  That’s a thing you know.  Bacon pizza.

I am a purist.  If it’s good pizza, and I pretty much try to stay away from the big chains anymore, then a sprinkle of mozzarella, a bit of chopped garlic, and some torn basil leaves is more than enough to make me sing.  Chris, however, really loves pepperoni.  And his wife is mean and hateful and won’t let him order factory farmed meat products in any form, not even on a pie.  The solution to this has become that I keep pepperoni in the house so he can add it to his own pizza.  There are a surprising number of sustainably sourced pepperoni products in your local WhoFo.  The problem is that many of them come in whole sausage form, rather than a miniature baggie of 8 slices for a sole pizza decorating endeavor.  That means that after pizza night, there is a leftover tube length of approximately 8″.  Heh.

Part of it gets cut off and frozen for future pizza nights.  But part of it gets left in the fridge, lest I have some sort of Subway-related panic attack and need a spicy Italian sandwich RIGHT NOW.  That’s part of the problem of having given up fast food entirely.  Sometimes I want exactly what I used to order, and I have to be prepared to make it for my own damn self, out of acceptable ingredients, in a relatively short amount of time.  Spicy Italian is one of those bites of nostalgia that I occasionally require.  I’m pretty good at making them, too.  When I was growing up, one of my best friends worked at Subway.  I used to walk down there after school and get behind the counter and make sandwiches for people.  I wasn’t an employee, I didn’t have the uniform, but I was a fine sandwich artist.  Freelance.

I haven’t wanted subs lately, though, and we’ve had this giant log of pepperoni languishing in the fridge for some time, eyeballing me, guilting me for ignoring it.  Last night, I decided to put it out of its misery and make something from it.  But what do you make with pepperoni?

Here’s what’s fabulous about leftovers:  every culture has a means by which you can dispose of them pretty much without caring what the actual leftover you’re using is.  In Mexico, you throw things into a quesadilla or a tortilla soup.  In France, leftovers become a filling for crepes. In India, leftover pieces of vegetables become curry (at least, they do according to Nigella Lawson, who is basically the expert of everything, if you measure intelligence by bosom and toothiness. In Italy, leftovers get tossed into minestrone or, as is the case here, become a cheap, cheerful, very satisfying pasta dish.

So what I’m going to show you here is a method you can use to turn just about any leftover ingredients into a great pasta.  I’m not claiming it’s authentic Italian.  I’m not Italian, I have no Italian nonna to show me the ways of the cucina.  But it works, it’s delicious, and it’s a damn sight better than tossing out spare pieces of food just because you don’t know what to do with them.

Step 1: Gather your ingredients

In this case, I had a zucchini (when do I not have a f*cking zucchini these days??), some pepperoni, a handful of tomatoes from the garden that were starting to look a little wrinkly on the outside and needed to be eaten, a quarter of an onion, and a couple of garlic cloves that were looking drier than ideal.  I took all of the ingredients, and I cut them up.  1/2″ cubes for everything but the onions (1/4″ dice) and the garlic (haphazardly minced).

Step 2: Pick a pasta

I had a bag of gemelli pasta in my pantry, because the giant packs at Costco contain gemelli, and it’s definitely not my favorite pasta shape, so it tends to stick around the house like a bad smell.

Step 3: Gather your supporting ingredients

As a general rule, I like to have a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, a couple pats of butter, and some parmagianno (I sliced off a fair pile with a potato peeler and set it aside). Fresh basil and/or parsley is pretty crucial, too.

Step 4: Get your water boiling.  Salt it until it tastes like sea water, only without that BP petrochemical twang.  Add your pasta and set your timer for the time specified on the package.

Step 5: Saute your ingredients in a logical order, using a very large skillet.

I started by briefly sauteing the pepperoni some olive oil until it started to release some of its fat.  Then I removed it with a slotted spoon, tossed in the vegetables (but not the tomatoes), the red pepper flakes, and a healthy pinch of salt and sauteed them until they started to become tender.  I increased the heat, tossed in the tomatoes, and let it cook for another few minutes.  When it started to look dry, I spooned in about 1/4 C of the pasta water and tossed it a few times to make sure everything was evenly moist.  The pasta water creates a very slight sauce in the pan, but it should still look pretty dry and chunky,  almost the consistency of stewed tomatoes.  I added the pepperoni back in.

Step 6: Put it all together in the big pan.

I use a slotted spoon and take the pasta directly from the pasta water and drop it into the pan of vegetables.  The pasta holds onto a fair amount of pasta water, and that’s a good thing.  Pasta water has starch and will help your sauce be both clingier to the pasta, as well as slightly saucier (remember, it was still sort of dry looking before you added the pasta).  Toss it all to lightly coat the pasta in the sauce and distribute the vegetables evenly.  Add a couple of pats of butter and your shards of parm, and toss to combine everything.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Adjust to taste, and serve with a healthy sprinkle of fresh herbs.  (I took the following picture before sprinkling with basil, but trust me– I did it).

It was delicious.  It was easy.  It cleared a few things out of the veggie and deli bins in the fridge.  And it was interesting, because it will never be the same twice.

So, the basic rules, in case you tired of reading the steps I put together.

1-you can use whatever leftovers you have
2-Saute by order of how long things take to cook
3-Salt your pasta water enough, because it makes each piece of pasta more flavorful
4-USE YOUR PASTA WATER
5-Toss everything together in the pan.  DO NOT just pour sauce over pasta.  Ever.
6-Finish with butter or a little good olive oil to make it creamy and delicious

Those are the only rules.  This can be vegetarian, vegan, meaty, expensive, cheap, extravagant, simple, whatever you want, as long as you follow the basic rules.

That said, I think you should try it this way, because the tang and spice of the pepperoni perfectly balanced the mild sweetness of the zucchini and the acidic freshness of the tomato.  Better than a pepperoni pizza, that’s for sure, and the orange fat kind of coated the pasta, rather than just loitering on top like a group of sullen teenagers in baggy pants and shaggy hairstyles.  You should just trust me on this.  Because, not unlike Nigella, I have a bosom and some teeth.

3 thoughts on “Creative leftovers”

  1. I try to do stuff like this frequently – Oh, we have a zucchini, an eggplant, some tomatoes and kale. I'll make Pasta! but Shawn is like "kale doesn't go in spaghetti." I claimed it did. but since I'm the one who cooks, I won.

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