How To Leftovers: Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce

My family struggles with leftovers. My wife and kids rebel at the mention of "last night's pot roast," and pale at the thought of eating something twice in as many days. I consider leftovers a gift to future me, affording me one more day before I have to be productive in the kitchen again (I love to cook, but that shit gets tiring sometimes). I'll even eat them straight out of the fridge if I'm feeling particularly lazy.

A lot of my love of leftovers has to do with the fact that I detest food waste more than most other things. Feeding a family of five is an expensive proposition, in terms of time, effort and money. Watching all three of those tossed unceremoniously into the garbage because my kids don't feel like eating leftover meat loaf fills me with the kind of depressive rage that probably warrants therapy.

Naturally, I've spent some time and effort trying to figure out how to bring the wife and kids around. It's actually been much simpler (and much more rewarding) than I'd have guessed. It's all about transformation. If I can work with and around my leftovers, weaving in fresh ingredients and a few techniques to create something that looks, tastes and feels new, I can bring everyone to the table, happy and hungry. In this series, I'll document  my adventures in leftovers. I hope it gives you a few ideas, some inspiration to help you do something with that little bit of leftover braised chicken, or the handful of ears of grilled corn left over from the cookout. Feel free to toot your own leftovers horn in the comments. The more the merrier. 

My wife introduced me to Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce. She didn't get it out of one of Marcella's cookbooks, or from a glossy food mag. She got it from a Nicholas Sparks book. 

From that unexpected introduction, the sauce quickly became a staple in our house. It's pulled together quickly, from a handful of inexpensive ingredients we always have on hand. It's simple and forgiving — almost effortless. Most important, it's delicious. 

I've taken to thinking of Hazan sauce as a mother sauce of sorts. With its almost austere flavor profile — all sweet onion, tart tomato and rich butter — it is almost endlessly adaptable. Tweak it with other flavorings and you can take the sauce in so many different directions that it almost functions as an ingredient rather than just a standalone recipe. That makes it perfect as leftovers.

The recipe as I make it almost always yields a bit more sauce than I need for pasta, but, to be honest, I've actually taken to making more than I need on purpose because it's such a delicious starting point for other dishes.

For starters, a large deli container stashed in the freezer means I'm about as far away from dinner as the time it takes to boil a pot of spaghetti, thawing the sauce in the pan I'll finish the pasta in. From there, the sauce serves as a rich base for an array of flavor profiles. I find it does really well with South Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern notes, and those elements have guided many of my repurposing efforts. 

Shakshouka is one of my favorite tomato-based foods. I take liberties with the dish, using it as a framework more than a recipe, adapting it to what I have on hand, and what strikes my mood. I've used Hazan sauce straight as the base, adjusting the flavor with some appropriate spices (maybe some cumin and paprika, probably some garlic) bloomed in oil before adding the sauce and allowing it to reduce slightly. Sometimes I'll sauté in whatever odds and ends of vegetables I have on hand, from zucchini to green beans, before adding the sauce, topping with eggs and baking to finish. Once, I made what I called Inception Shakshouka, using as the base a sort of chana masala riff I'd made the night before, which was itself based on leftover Hazan sauce. Regardless of the specifics, since it starts with a flavor-packed sauce-in-its-own-right, it's full of nuance and depth. 

This probably warrants its own post, but I'll embed it here because I feel like starting this off in the thrifty yet generous spirit that infuses my leftovers cooking. I cook a lot of lentils. From Lebanese megadarra to North Indian masoor dal. Given that it seems physically impossible to make a small amount of lentils, and equally impossible to eat a large pot of lentils, I often have leftovers. Leftover lentils in my house means fritters. Simply mash the lentils slightly, add an egg and maybe some starchy binder (bread crumbs, chickpea or wheat flour, etc.), form into patties or balls (I actually prefer quenelles, mostly because I think they're fun to cut), and deep-fry until golden brown and crispy. All the while, you should have been simmering your leftover sauce, again with additions of spice bloomed in oil to fit the temperament of your finished fritter. For masoor dal, I went with a simple masala blend I keep on hand portioned out in whole spices, then ground in a repurposed coffee just before using. (If there's one thing you can do to improve spice-based cooking, it's toasting and then grinding fresh). A pool of sauce on the plate, the fritters, some appropriate herbage, and maybe a drizzle of yogurt if you're feeling fancy. These are some of the best leftovers I've ever had. 

This is another "leftovers-from-leftovers" thing I've done a few times now. I love the notion of shuffling the same deck a few times, switching up format and supporting players to come up with something new. I've done this with actual meatballs before, dressing a nice roll with Hazan sauce, meatballs and melted provolone (maybe some hot pickled peppers if I'm feeling jaunty), but one of my favorite iterations came about when I decided to stuff a few of the aforementioned fritters into some pita, like a falafel sandwich. Spiced Hazan sauce, fritters, herbs and a bit of marinated Armenian string cheese (I'm kind of obsessed with the stuff), and I had a leftover-leftovers lunch at my desk that had coworkers stopping by to ask for a bite. 

These are just a few of the leftovers tweaks I've made to Hazan sauce, and the ones of which I happened to have photos handy. I've also used it for pizza, as a simple tomato soup, as a base for a sort of chili, in a saucy riff on ratatouille and more. I've got my sights set on a Third Coast-Italian campechana. All this, thanks to my kids' objection to leftovers, my love of them, Marcella Hazan and my wife, with a grudging nod to Nicholas Sparks. 
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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall