If you want to live a minimum waste life, it doesn’t mean you have to eat unappetising food. I’ve found the opposite. Using leftovers often results in the tastiest meals.
You can also top up your store-cupboard with gourmet food by making the most of your leftovers. Here are a few ideas.
A board of cheese (& cold meat if you eat meat) becomes a luxury meal when you add a selection of chutneys and still-warm baked bread: make your own or buy 2 bake-at-home baguettes for as little as 45p. Add a glass of home made elderberry cordial or port for real luxury.
You can pay £15 or more per person for a ‘platter’ out. However, if you get into a chutney-making habit, you can serve cheddar with picallili; halloumi with sweet chilli sauce; and feta with cucumber relish.
Onion marmalade can transform pastry into a tart, with the help of some cheese, as can tomato relish. And if you have leftover wine, throwing it into a red wine and onion marmalade or white wine and green vegetable chutney is much better than throwing it away.
And pickles aren’t just for platters. A chutney selection adds variety to home made curry – and chutney is a great gift too. Turn your leftovers into pickled treats.
All too often, people throw away half a packet of unused herbs. The best solution is to grow your own then cut as you need. However, if you have herbs left over, put them in oil and use to season pizza, or use to add flavour to all manner of dishes.
You can combine woody herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage; or add herbs of a single type to a bottle, for example, to create intense chive oil (liquidise this and store in the fridge: woody herb oils can live in the cupboard).
I’ve also successfully grown plants from woody herb pack leftovers. Strip off the bottom leaves, put in water and with a few weeks, there should be roots and you can pot your plant(s) on.
If you put cuttings in decorative pots, you can give people herb gardens for christmas. If the roots don’t take after a couple of weeks, don’t throw them away – strip the dried herbs from the stem and use for luxury home made toiletries.
Good soup needn’t be costly. Some of the tastiest soups I’ve had were also the simplest: an asparagus soup from a joyous garden glut; a comforting mulligatawny from curry leftovers; a fridge leftovers’ minestrone.
Your soup depends on what you need to use up.
Bread can become croutons or form the basis of gazpacho (or panzanella)
Cheese ends can be grated to create cheese crisps or thrown into soup to add flavour, as can bacon, ham, miso, soy sauce and leftover tasty gravies or sauces. And limp vegetables can become comforting vegetable soup with the help of stock, fresh herbs and a little time…
If you always have stock to hand almost anything can become soup. Baked beans can thicken a soup if you stick-blend it; and rice or pasta leftovers can bulk it up. Soup is also a good place to ‘hide’ wilting leaves – pea and lettuce being a particularly delicious combination.
As a general rule, most meat or veg leftovers can be thrown into rice, pasta, potatoes or all three.
Use risotto rice for a creamy meal that can include anything from peas to salmon, bacon to spinach.
Use basmati rice for a 1970s style risotto with tinned sweetcorn, peas, peppers, bacon and any other leftovers that appeal; or throw in paprika and tinned tomatoes to give it more of a paella feel.
And use potatoes to create rosti which can be topped with everything from mozarella and pesto to left over fry up ingredients (mix with baked beans for a comforting and simple meal).
Alternatively, potato cakes can accompany many leftovers to turn them into a meal – and dauphinoise can be even tastier with added cheese, spinach or leftover bolognese.
Leftovers can bring variety to sweet treats. Add leftover fruit or jam to whipped cream for an instant mousse.
Get into the habit of turning ageing fruit into coulis or jam by adding over-ripe fruit to sugar and boiling it up. Both last longer than fresh fruit, though how long depends on the amount of sugar you use. Add lemon juice to balance the flavour. These can also form the base for fruit liqueurs – just add your spirit of choice.
Spreading the last bit of peanut butter over pastry can add crunch to banoffee (but do check no one is allergic to nuts!) Or shake milk in almost-empty jam, chocolate spread or peanut butter jars to create a zero-waste milkshake.
A drizzle of jam or coulis turns ice cream into a sundae – with meringues if you have egg whites to use up.
Stale bread can become autumn pudding or bread pudding. And chocolate truffles are a good way to use up stale biscuits – use dark chocolate and the stale taste will be masked by the strong flavour. Throw in any raisins or nuts lurking at the bottom of packets.
Candied peel or marmalade is delicious in truffles too – and a great way to use up old citrus peel. Empty the last drips of any spirits bottles in too…
Make It Easy On Yourself
During peak foraging season, which we’re just reaching the end of, I tend to have three stock pots on the go: a pectin pot for fruit peelings and cores; a chutney pot with a squash, rhubarb, plum or apple base (sometimes a mix of all four) fried with lots of onions, with vinegar and sugar or honey; and a vegetable stock pot for veg peelings and ends (including onion skins but not too many as they can turn a stock bitter. Make dye with them if you have a glut – or compost them.)
I add to my stock pots with each meal. I add any high pectin fruit/peelings to the pectin pot; gravy/non creamy leftover sauce to the vegetable stock; and fruit or vegetable scraps/herbs and spices to chutney.
With chutney, I bottle it with each major change. By starting with an onion base and gradually adding different vegetables, herbs and spices, it’s easy to accumulate a wide array of chutneys over as little as a week.
I strain the pectin pot off once everything is suitably boiled down and soft (usually daily) then dollop pectin in during jam-making as required; and reduce the stock down to store in ice cube trays in a concentrated state.
If I’m doing a lot of cooking, I store the chutney and pectin pots in the fridge overnight to extend their life. However, I’ll leave the vegetable stock on the hob overnight and so far, it hasn’t done me any harm.
Taking time to appreciate your leftovers can lead to a much more varied diet. Get creative and see what meals you can invent.