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Digital Subscriptions > Italia! > Nov-18 > Vero Italiano LEFTOVERS

Vero Italiano LEFTOVERS

In the next part of his series uncovering the secrets of Italian food, Mario Matassa turns to the subject of leftovers. Economical, quick to cook, and packed with flavour, Italian leftover recipes are the perfect way to make the most of what you have.

For Italians, using up leftover food is a virtue, and one that has been transformed into an artform. The Tuscans in particular are a shining example of this tradition. They have invented more ways of using leftover bread than they have of using it fresh! One of Italy’s most iconic dishes, the humble ribollita, is in fact nothing more than a clever guise for leftover soup that has been re-boiled and garnished with bread that has seen fresher days. Tuscans know only too well that twice-cooked vegetables concentrate the flavours and, in fact, this dish tastes so good that restaurants today often charge exorbitant prices for their not-so-humble ribollita.

Today’s use of leftovers in the Italian kitchen stems from a time when food was scarce and the idea of throwing anything away inconceivable. Such was the importance of using leftovers that in 1916, Olindo Guerrini, a writer and poet, published L’arte di utilizzare gli avanzi della mensa (The Art of Using up Leftovers), a comprehensive collection of regional recipes he had gathered over many years. The work was very influential and many of the recipes in the book are still cooked in homes across the country today.

Italians no longer face the same hardships they did, but they haven’t lost sight of their roots; leftovers still feature in every family’s weekly menu. The truth is that some of our favourite and most famous dishes were originally conceived as ways of using up leftovers. Take, for example, the ubiquitous spaghetti with red sauce. Personally, on Sundays I always make more spaghetti than I am going to need that day. This means that the next day I can throw it into a pan, add a splash of oil, fry it up, and have the perfect meal in minutes – and everyone fights over the crunchy ‘burnt’ bits at the bottom. It’s a habit I picked up from childhood. Every Sunday at noon we would cross town to my grandparents’ house for lunch, and every Sunday evening we would return home with a large bowl of cold spaghetti in our arms. There were no prizes for guessing what we were going to have for lunch on Mondays!

It’s the same principle when it comes to risotto or polenta. While both can be time-consuming dishes to prepare in their own right, by making more than you need you are effectively getting two or more meals for the effort of one.

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About Italia!

When it comes to planning a holiday, so much of the enjoyment comes in the anticipation, which is why we have packed the issue with plenty of inspiration for your next trip to Italy, whether you’re going this year or next. We were intrigued to find out about the papier-mâché (cartapesta) tradition of Salento on our visit to Lecce, the ‘Florence of the South’. Lake Como is breathtaking whatever the season, and a visit to Villa Balbiano, now restored to its former opulence, is a must.