Pandemic Reflections and Quick Meals for
Canned Vegetables and Leftovers

I woke up Wednesday morning with the notion that all was well. But then in a New York minute, I remembered that I’m living through a pandemic—never before known by my generation or, for that matter, anyone I know. (My dad talked of the Great Depression, and to this day my memory of him hoarding peanut butter makes me smile. Poor Daddy—today that kind of hoarding would be very smart!)

For a moment, I wished that I could save the world, but I can’t. What I can do is write what I know to help get us through these trying times. My aim is to provide better-than-okay meals with pantry staples.

And in case you didn’t know, my friends and readers, already cooked and protein-rich canned beans are your best buy right now. Apparently, some beans have more protein than others. Even I didn’t know that before today’s research. (But that, as I’m fond of saying, is another post.)

The first recipe below is a “Seven Cans” Tuscan Soup that makes life easier. Your part only requires about 10 minutes prep time, and the oven does the rest. But why not use the slow cooker or stovetop? Using a slow cooker takes 8 hours on low, while the oven takes considerably less time. Oven cooking is also gentler than simmering on the stovetop. And here’s a bonus: it won’t stick or need stirring. (A big bonus in my book!)The second recipe below is a very versatile way to make quesadillas from leftovers. If you’ve never make them before, now might be a fun time to learn how.

“Seven Cans” Tuscan Soup

Chef’s note: This requires so little attention and tastes so good, you might opt for this method even when you’re not sequestered at home.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
1 (28 oz.) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste (sundried, if you have it)
1 can cannellini or great northern beans
1 can chickpeas
1 (4–5 oz.) jar Genovese (green) pesto (red pesto will work too)
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 can spinach or cut green beans
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ box small shell pasta or any small dried pasta (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 290°F. Place the ingredients in the order given in a large casserole (or the liner of a 6-quart slow cooker, if you prefer). Do not drain anything, just empty the cans directly into your vessel.
  2. Stir well. Cover with a tight-fitting lid before placing the casserole in the oven (on the lowest rack).
  3. Cook for 2–2½ hours. It should be bubbling when you take it out. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
  4. Serve in large, shallow dishes with your favorite homemade bread. Pass around pecorino, Parmesan, or asiago cheese (or a combination of all three).

Quesadillas with Leftovers from the Fridge

Chef’s note: My favorite leftovers for these quesadillas are cooked bacon, broccoli, and mushrooms, but I also enjoy dark meat chicken, sautéed cabbage, and broccoli. If you have any cheeses that are beginning to dry out, they would be suitable for this dish—simply grate the cheese for melting. Whatever you have on hand, mix it up and see what your family likes best.

The fillings below are only suggestions. Use whatever you have leftover in the refrigerator.


1 teaspoon olive oil
2 flour tortillas
¼ cup cooked bacon, pork, or chicken (rotisserie chicken works wonderfully)
1 cup cooked broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, or cabbage
¼ cup sautéed mushrooms, sliced
½ tomato, diced (salsa will also work)
⅓–½ cup shredded cheese of choice
Optional garnishes: salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or whatever else you have available.


  1. Heat oil in a skillet. Add first tortilla to skillet, cooking it one minute. Set aside.
  2. Place the other tortilla in the skillet. Scatter evenly with your protein of choice and whatever else you prefer (such as broccoli, mushrooms, and tomato). Top with the cheese.
  3. Top with the first tortilla, cooked side up. Cook one minute, or until the bottom tortilla is nicely browned.
  4. Flip the quesadillas and cook until cheese melts, about 1–2 minutes.
  5. Cut into quarters and serve immediately with garnishes of your choice.

We are all in this together.

Images from iStock/SarapulSar38 (main), from_my_point_of_view (post).

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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