(A “zero-waste” recipe)
It’s only been three weeks since our state went into lockdown over the COVID-19 risks, but it sure seems like I’ve been rationing fresh food items a lot longer than that. We’ve managed to only do our grocery runs about once every 10 to 14 days since the middle of March, when the walls first started to close in. And the consequences of our few-and-far-between trips became evident a few nights ago when I reached for the “brand-new” package of grape tomatoes I’d purchased, and found this:
If that isn’t disappointing enough, imagine my horror when I peeked into the crisper drawer to find another so-called fresh item to be way past its prime.
I know. Kind of like those pics all over Instagram of celebrities without their makeup. Our produce drawer has been so jam-packed these past weeks, it has become a real challenge to keep up with the fresh ingredients we’re buying in greater quantity than usual. This discovery of wrinkly tomatoes and shriveled zucchini wrecked my plan for making ratatouille, one of my very favorite vegetable-centered dishes. I’m not even going to show you a picture of the eggplant. It’s rough, people.
So, a change of plans, but this need not be a disaster. I’ve been here before with the tomatoes and knew I could save them. With a little patience and the magic of slow poaching in some good quality olive oil, you can do it, too. We’re going to turn these sad little misfit vegetables into something delicious. This recipe serves two.
Let’s Get Cooking!
One pint really wrinkled baby tomatoes (of course, fresh is good, also!)
1/2 cup chopped onion (I like sweet ones, but use whatever you have)
3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Italian blend herb seasoning
About 1 1/2 cups leftover cooked chicken (shredded scraps from a rotisserie market chicken is perfect)
1 medium shriveled-up zucchini (or fresh, if you must)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parm-Romano cheese for serving
First things first—we need to identify any tomatoes that truly shouldn’t be used. If they are wrinkled and a bit withered, they’re OK. Soft, oozing or moldy? Sorry fellas, you’ve been chopped.
Rinse the tomatoes that remain and set them aside on a paper towel to absorb the excess water. Place a large, non-stick skillet over very low heat and add the full amount of olive oil. It’s going to seem like a lot, but it’s all good.
Add the onions, garlic and baby tomatoes to the olive oil and tilt the pan around to “roll” and coat the tomatoes in the oil. Add the Italian herbs, and season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Keep the heat to a bare minimum. This super-slow pace might feel a little awkward if you are accustomed to sautéing in oil. We’re doing something else—rehydrating the tomatoes should not be rushed, and I can’t emphasize enough that your heat should be at the lowest setting your burner allows. You don’t want to see or hear any sizzling at all; if you do, it’s too hot. The pictures in this slideshow are time-stamped, and the captions will help explain how this should progress:
Pretty awesome, right? And you wouldn’t believe the depth of aroma and flavor the olive oil is able to extract from those sad little tomatoes. Actually, it’s more than that; studies have shown that cooking tomatoes in oil releases more of their lycopene, an antioxidant linked to heart health and protection against certain types of cancer. And to think, we almost threw them away!
If you only had the tomatoes, you could stop right here, toss this sauce with some freshly cooked pasta and call it dinner (just add a sprinkle of parmesan and a glass of wine). But today is also the deadline for that pitiful zucchini, so I’m going to take this a step further and turn the squash into “noodles.”
One day soon, I’ll share my honest opinion about the different spiralizers I’ve tried. They definitely are not created equal, and although you’d think the expensive ones would be the best, I usually prefer this little gadget—called a “Vegetti”—that I picked up for about $6 at TJMaxx (a couple years ago—you know, when things were open).
It has two sides: one for thick spirals and one for thin. I’m using the thick side today, and as you can see, after twisting the zucchini through it, there’s very little waste. Just the butt ends and these cute little swirly buttons. Lucky for me, even these will not be wasted because our dog, Nilla, is certifiably crazy about vegetables. Sweet girl has such patience.
We’re now in the homestretch, where we will see the final transformation of too-far-gone vegetables turned into a delicious and healthful, zero-waste meal. I’m scattering my leftover chicken pieces over the top of my luscious poached tomato sauce, then the zucchini noodles, salt and pepper, and covering it with a lid to heat it through.
Turn up the heat about two notches to medium, set the table and pour the wine. By then, this one-skillet meal will be ready to be tossed and plated. Enjoy!