It's not always easy, this cooking-for-two business.

I'm a schemer and a long-term planner, and that sometimes has me grasping for things that are (or really should be, perhaps) out of my reach--a meal in five courses, an ice cream recipe that calls for a day of stirring and straining, a multilayered cake with icing and glazed fruits? No problem!--when you consider the fact that there are only two of us sitting down at our little table. It's not always easy for me to express myself out loud in words, either, but I do have a tendency towards grand gestures. What can I say about that? It's the personality trait that drives me to cook insanely complicated meals on a Tuesday night. It's the trait that led me to move 2500 miles across the country from my hometown to a brand new city, seemingly turning on a dime. I overshop, overreach, and overdo things out of intense love. It's kind of........my thing.

Luckily for us, we have a huge stash of tupperware.

Because I also have a twisted, artist's imagination, pretty often Tuesday's leftovers become Wednesday's reimagined dinner without too much trouble at all. My domestic counterpart calls these my 'Iron Chef nights' (tonight's secret ingredients are......3 carrots, leftover pasta and a tablespoon of tomato paste! ALLEZ CUISINE!). So many times I've felt like someone's Depression-era grandmother as I've whisked a small handful of leftover green beans or a sprinkling of chopped herbs into a lidded plastic container. Why not? It will get used, or it will sit for a few days and then get thrown away. But damn it, I'm gonna try.

A few night's ago, dinner chez Sweet Laurel yielded a few different leftovers: about two cups of Spring Vegetable Risotto, and a handful of uncooked fiddlehead fern tops that didn't make it onto the risotto. Two things seemed obvious to me.

One, those fiddleheads are seasonal as all hell, and were more precious than gold when I picked them up at the greenmarket. I was not about to let a single one of those little darlings go to waste. Let's pickle those things right up*.

Two, any Sicilian can tell you that the absolute best thing to do in the face of leftover risotto is to roll it up and make arancini. Sooooo, the way to proceed seemed clear.

[ *Which, okay yes, does make me feel like a character in the Portlandia pickling sketch, but whatever......

......'Oh, fiddleheads and three leftover green beans? I CAN PICKLE THAT!' ]

The first thing I was really keen to try was Quick-Pickled Fiddlehead Fern Tops. These are a quick pickle primarily for two reasons: I only had a handful left, and one small jar didn't seem a large enough batch to justify a water bath, canning tongs, and the traditional pickling method.  

So, I opted to quickly blanch these little guys (along with, yes, some leftover raw green beans that had been haunting my crisper drawer) until just tender, then cover them in a vinegary, sweet brine along with bay leaves, mustard seeds, peppercorns and a whole clove of garlic.

These will keep for about a week in the fridge in a tightly lidded container, far less time than if they'd been traditionally pickled. But there are so few of them--and I'm hoping they'll be addictively delicious and we'll inhale them immediately--that it won't be an issue in the slightest.

Mmmmmmmm. Crispy and briney. Your amounts may vary, depending on whether you're working with a full-sized batch of fiddleheads or just a few strays like I was, but either way you can't go wrong with this basic recipe from Serious Eats.

My second idea actually took place two nights ago, when I repurposed the unused portion of our risotto to make arancini, or Sicilian-style rice balls. With their creamy centers and golden crisp outsides (thanks to a showering of bread crumbs and a generous helping of olive oil), these are basically reason enough to keep making risotto, just to have enough to make arancini the next day. These are in essence some very down-home, Southern Italian-style county fair food (deep-fried mac & cheese on a stick? Please, this is mac-on-a-stick's great grandmother from the Old Country); they are little round, golden brown missiles of love. 

This version included chunks of kielbasa (another random refrigerator stray, left over from last weekend's trip to the farmer's market), diced into small cubes and browned briefly in a skillet, then pressed into the center of each palm-sized rice ball. The bread crumbs come from a stash of cubed bread that I keep in the freezer, frozen just before it could go stale, and intended exactly for this purpose (or for making bread pudding on demand, obviously). Just toss a few frozen cubes of bread in the blender or food processor, pulse into crumbs, and go. Why yes, yes I AM super thrifty and ingenious, thank you for noticing.

Arancini of Leftover Spring Vegetable Risotto

2 cups risotto
1 cup bread crumbs
salt & pepper
Olive oil (at least 4 tablespoons, but keep the bottle handy)
1/2 cup diced kielbasa, browned in a skillet & set aside to cool (optional, but awesome. 
Diced pancetta would be an even better substitution here)

Divide risotto into approximately 6 portions. Form a loose ball in your palm with each portion, pressing some of the kielbasa or pancetta down into the center of each, then close the ball a little more tightly around it. Each ball should be about the size of a small orange (which is where the Italian word arancini, or 'little orange', comes from in the first place), somewhere between golf ball & tennis ball-sized.

Season bread crumbs to taste with salt & pepper, toss to mix thoroughly. Gently roll each rice ball in the bread crumbs until well coated, set aside.

Cover the bottom of a skillet completely with olive oil, heat over medium high heat. Working in batches (I did two batches of three balls each), place in skillet and gently roll every few minutes until arancini are thoroughly browned. Keep the bottom of the skillet well-coated in olive oil, adding more as necessary. Remove from pan, serve immediately.