Several years ago I had my one and only experience of making cottage pie from scratch. (That’s what you call it when it has beef in; shepherd’s pie, properly, is made from lamb.) I chopped various vegetables; cooked and seasoned the meat; peeled, boiled, and mashed the potatoes. By the time I had finished, my kitchen was a disaster area. After I had assembled the thing in a baking dish, I looked at the directions, and remembered that after all that, now I was going to have to cook it again, this time in the oven. In the midst of a string of curses, I had a blinding revelation: this was not how you were supposed to do it. Cottage pie must have been invented to use up leftovers—probably from a Sunday roast.
(My apologies if this is old news to you. Growing up in a household of ten people, we were unlikely to have leftovers of any kind. On the rare occasions when we did, we just had them reheated, as opposed to refashioned.)
Following this flash of insight, I became increasingly aware of a subculture of leftover cookery: a whole series of dishes that, upon examination, revealed themselves to have originated, in my estimation, as vehicles for creative use of leftover food. Not just the aforementioned cottage pie and shepherd’s pie, but also chicken pot pie. Fried rice. Pasta al forno. Even some kinds of soup!
I eventually developed what I think of as Roving Lemon’s Leftover Rule of Thumb: If the recipe calls for any major ingredient to be cooked two different ways in a short space of time, then I’m betting that it was originally devised to use up leftovers.
This knowledge has been of great benefit to me since, as I’ve mentioned before, I hate wasting food. Unfortunately I also have a tendency to buy and prepare too much of it, especially when the holidays roll around. This past Easter was no exception; when I was placing my order at the butcher, I momentarily lost my mind and ordered a 2kg pork roast. So, about 4.5lbs of meat. For three people. One of whom is four.
My most recent addition to the list of potential leftover-vehicles is stuffed pasta (which probably extends to stuffed dumplings of all kinds and ethnicities). Since I had a hunk of unallocated pasta dough sitting in my fridge alongside the hunk of cooked roast pork, I decided to combine the two and make…
I won’t give you a recipe for pasta dough, since chances are that, if you’re likely to have a leftover hunk of it sitting in your fridge, you already have one. If you don’t, you could buy fresh pasta sheets to make this, or look up a recipe. If you’re really determined to have the one I used, you can always email me (rovinglemon at yahoo dot com).
To make filling:
Cut meat off bone (if necessary) and into large chunks, and throw them into a food processor. (I had at least 500g/1lb of meat, but I forgot to weigh it.) Add two eggs, a couple of handfuls of grated pecorino romano cheese, a sprinkling of salt, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. (I also threw in a couple of anchovies for a little extra flavor punch, but I wasn’t convinced this was successful. Something like Worcester sauce or balsamic vinegar might work better.) Mix in the food processor until thoroughly combined.
To make ravioli:
Cut strips of pasta about 4cm/1.5in wide and 7.5cm/3in long. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of one side of the strip, and fold the other side over as if closing a book. Press down on all edges to seal, either with your fingers or a fork. (Miss B got in on this part. She had a blast.) Place on a plate to dry out a bit if using right away. If freezing, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and put in freezer for at least 30 minutes, then bag up. (If the ravioli are not at least partially frozen before bagging, they will freeze together in a huge lump—trust me, it's a mistake I have made before!)
To cook ravioli:
Bring a large pot of boiling salted water to a boil. Drop ravioli in one by one; they will sink to the bottom. When they float to the top, they’re done—it will only take a couple of minutes. (You can also do this from frozen; the directions are the same, but the cooking takes a little longer.) Fish them out with a slotted spoon and place in a warm, covered bowl until all have cooked. Serve immediately with sauce of your choice. (I made a very simple garlic-tomato-basil sauce.)
Makes 45-50 ravioli. Estimate about five for each person, as they are quite dense and filling.