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How to Use Leftovers to Create New Meals.

No, not that again, was the usual chant from my threesome, when told dinner was leftover from a previous night. Except for maybe spaghetti and meatballs or something with hot dogs, most leftovers were met with such disdain.  My husband is easy. He likes whatever is on the dinner table.  It doesn’t matter if it is a leftover.  If he doesn’t eat it for dinner, he will have it for lunch. The kids were the real food critics.

Planning for leftovers that can be turned into new dishes is the secret to not having to eat leftovers!  If you think about portion control for many entrees, you won’t have to deal with leftovers on a regular basis.  Most people make way too much food and you can save money if you plan meals wisely.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about the latest investigation into the high cost of leftovers, noting that the average four-person family spends $500-$2,000 on food that ultimately ends up in the garbage. Throwing away food and wasting money brings on those guilty feelings. Considering the high cost of food and the shaky state of the economy, though, wasting good food is foolish.

Leftovers tend to be pitched or ignored in the refrigerator because they do not look appetizing; not because there is anything wrong with them.  The Journal story says that vegetables are the most commonly thrown away food, accounting for 25% of what winds up in the trash. But vegetables are also, the easiest foods to recycle by adding them to soups, stir-fries or other dishes, such as pasta.

If you put a little thought into meal planning and some creativity into food preparation, eating leftovers isn’t just frugal, it can be really good.  For example, one of my favorite entrees are crab cakes and, one day, after having discovered I had made too much salmon for dinner, I wondered what I could do with it.  I have to say that I am not a fan of leftover cold salmon or adding it to pasta or soup.  

Why not make crab cakes with salmon! They turned out great. Now, I make salmon fillets, just so I can have it leftover for salmon cakes.

Here is what I do.

Salmon Recipe for the First Night:

Roasted Salmon With Fennel Orange Salsa

  • 4 Salmon fillets without skin  
  • (figure 5-6 oz per person for dinner and buy and prepare 8oz of salmon for an additional meal
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh herbs (chives, rosemary, or thyme.)

For the salsa:

  • 1 fennel bulb finely diced, plus 1 tablespoon minced fennel leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely diced navel oranges
  • 10 green olives pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating, make the salsa.
In a medium bowl, stir together the fennel bulb and leaves, the diced orange, the olives, the juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Then, place salmon fillets, including the extra salmon, skin side down on a baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Brush fish with a bit more olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, and press the herbs into the flesh.  When the oven is hot, roast the salmon for 18-20 minutes. Serve 4 of the salmon fillets with salsa.

Wrap the 8 oz. extra piece of salmon and refrigerate it until you are ready to make the salmon cakes.  You can even freeze it for several weeks, defrost the salmon overnight in the refrigerator and proceed with the salmon cake recipe.

Salmon Recipe for a Second Night:

Salmon Cakes

  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion (or scallions) finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 of a small bell pepper (color of your choice), finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 pound (8 oz.) cooked salmon
  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup plain or lemon pepper panko, divided
  • 1 teaspoon crab boil seasoning (such as, Old Bay)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Remoulade Sauce (recipe follows) or make extra salsa
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges


Combine onion, bell pepper, celery and parsley in a shallow bowl.
Add salmon and flake apart with a fork.  

Leftover Cooked Salmon

Add mayonnaise, egg substitute, Worcestershire sauce and mustard; mix well. Add ½ cup panko bread crumbs, Old Bay seasoning and pepper; mix well.

Salmon Patty Mixture

Shape the mixture into 4 patties, about 3 inches wide. Dredge in remaining panko crumbs.
Chill in the refrigerator at least 1/2 hour before baking. Prepare Remoulade Sauce and chill.

Salmon Patties Breaded and Ready for the Oven

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a baking sheet well with non-stick cooking spray.
Place patties on prepared cookie sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then flip patties, carefully, and bake an additional 20 minutes.
Turn oven to broil for final 5 minutes and broil until the patties are golden.
Serve salmon cakes with sauce and lemon wedges.  4 servings

Remoulade Sauce

  • 1/4  cup low-fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1  tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2  teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1  teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1  teaspoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1/4  teaspoon hot sauce

Whisk ingredients together and chill.  Keeps several days in the refrigerator. 

Some Additional Ideas:

Roast Vegetable Frittata

Spray a large ovenproof nonstick pan with olive oil. Saute’ vegetables until heated through. Add eggs to vegetable mixture. Cook on low heat until eggs are cooked most of the way through. Sprinkle with cheese and place under the broiler for about 2 minutes until eggs are cooked through and cheese is melted.  Number of Servings: 4

Pork Ragu

2-3 cups leftover, cooked pork loin, cubed
see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/08/make-dinner-sunday-for-your-mom/
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, cut into small dice
2 medium ribs celery, cut into small dice
1 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1-14.5 oz can low salt diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups lower-salt chicken broth
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a straight-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, pepper flakes, and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until tender and starting to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the pork and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the broth has reduced by half, about 1 hour. Since you want the pork flavor to come through, it is important to reduce the sauce by half or it will taste more like a tomato sauce.  Stir in the parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This pork stew can be served over pasta, rice or gnocchi. It is especially good served with fresh cheese tortellini.



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