Some of us grew up on meat and potatoes.
Calvin Trillin was raised on leftovers.
Or so says Trillin, the witty columnist for The Nation and The New Yorker, who dropped into Washington's Kitchen Bazaar late last month to promote his recent book, "If You Can't Say Something Nice." And also to chat about his mother's cooking.
"My mother served leftovers for 20 years," mused the writer. "It wasn't until I was in college that I asked myself, leftovers from what?"
Anthropologists, concluded Trillin, are currently hunting down the Original Meal.
Rarely glamorous, yet almost always comforting, leftovers are the culinary equivalent of hand-me-downs: Yesterday's grilled chicken is today's soup, and today's pot roast might be tomorrow's beef hash.
But second-time-around fare has more than mere economy to promote it. In many cases, food tastes better a few days after it's prepared -- lasagna and chili, their respective seasonings having had a chance to meld, come to mind.
And some of our favorite foods are constructed from leftovers. In Minnesota, where I grew up, uneaten mashed potatoes could turn up again in lefse, that flat cre~pe-like dish, generally eaten buttered, dusted with sugar, and rolled up. Similarly, the roast beef eaten on Sunday seemed to have more lives than Shirley MacLaine, resurrected as it often was in the form of sandwiches, beef hash and vegetable beef stew.
When it comes to leftovers, Americans are by no means the only practitioners of the art. The Italians, it is said, created calzones from leftover pizza dough. The French routinely toss remaining fish and seafood into their pots of bouillabaisse. And the Chinese know that the best way to use up rice is, of course, to fry it.
In anticipation of Thanksgiving, the following recipe, from the files of the National Turkey Federation in Reston, might prove to be a welcome departure from several days' worth of turkey sandwiches:
Express Lane list: tricolored rotini, turkey, onion, celery, parsley, tarragon, tarragon vinegar, lemon juice, mayonnaise FESTIVE TURKEY PASTA SALAD (4 servings)
2 1/2 cups tricolored rotini pasta, cooked
2 cups turkey, cooked and cubed
1/2 to 2/3 cup onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, or overnight.
Serve on lettuce leaves, and garnish with black olive slices, if desired.