The couple of seconds difference between food left on our plates after a meal and food thrown away are very a crucial couple of seconds when dealing with food waste. Thing is that once we make the conscious decision of not wanting to deal with leftover food our perception of that same food changes from one of pleasure in the food we just ate to one of almost disgust, our brain automatically regarding that food as garbage , I am always amazed how those couple of seconds change the food from being delicious to one we do not even want to handle with our bare hands.
There is a degree of creativity involved in dealing with leftovers, I am not referring to putting the food in Tupperware containers and heating in a microwave the day after, what I am referring to here is the ability to reinvent left overs into new meals with only small hints of the old dish, by the simple addition of inexpensive pantry staples.
The realm of the left over is a wide one spanning from the time we are shopping for our ingredients , to preparing them for cooking , as by-products of the cooking process and finally the surplus cooked food left after any meal.
Acquiring Left overs at the Market….
You can find some great bargains at the markets, and by great bargains I am referring to being given food for free, as I wrote a lot of times before it is wise to buy your produce from the same number of vendors, that way they get used to you, and to know what type of cook you are, they would know that you can make a great pesto from carrot tops, be eternally grateful for a number of fish heads left behind by squeamish customers ( one of my favourite things to cook is Brandon Jew’s recipe for fish head soup) and will rejoice from unwanted beef trimmings with lovely cream coloured fat and marrow filled bones to be rendered down and transformed into rich gravies. You obviously need to be a good customer and buy produce regularly to be given this treatment do not even attempt at just turning up and ask for leftover merchandise without having bought anything beforehand. Rude does not fly.
A long term relationship with your vendors is one wrapped in give and take, if you make five litres of jam from surplus apricots the fruit vendor gifted you, be decent and give him a jar of jam on your next visit. human relations is the first element needed to cultivate a zero waste mentality, it requires effort and a level of consistency we do not always find the time for, but all the good things that come out of knowing your vendor make up for the hard work.
Whilst prepping ingredients for cooking….
Buying prepacked produce means that all the interesting extra perks have been already cut off, thrown away or sold separately by the chain itself. Buy food in its entirety, its more work to prep but will make your money go further, if you are well prepared that is.
Vegetable trimmings can be made into simple stocks, leek ends can be steamed and fried off in a little butter to top up any plate, bones can be roasted away for a good base in any demi glaze, chicken skins roasted in between roasting tins to make lovely crackling beautiful when sprinkled over vinegary green salads…. Endless possibilities with parts of the produce you would have thrown away. A good exercise when prepping is to keep an eye on what you are putting away in the trash, and consciously look and think about each and every item you are throwing away, this requires a lot of time and effort. Whenever I am cooking in a hurry I do throw away a lot of things that I later regret, I am not saying you have to do this exercise every time you cook sometimes the circumstances are beyond you but do try and have a long prep session especially after the weekend market visit, have plastic bags and empty glass jars at hand to put away the extra bits, place in the fridge and they will be readily available throughout the week, if you do that once and train yourself, you will become better at it, it’s really rewarding to know you were able to cook something delicious from food that would not have been available without your care.
Mainly I am referring to by-products of roasting, roasting juices are a precious source of flavour they convey the distinct Maillard notes only brought about by slow browning of food, smoky scents and the undeniable sweetness that roasting food brings about, it sounds quite special and indeed it is, yet who knows how many litres of roasting juices are washed down the drains together with hot water and soap, keep glass jars at hand, roasting juices also freeze well, it’s just until you get into the habit of saving them and make time to use them off on your next roasting task. Accumulation of left overs in the fridge is a big deterrent for keeping at it, so train your brain to reuse the food you stashed away, before introducing new jars to the left over collection in your fridge.
At the end of a meal…..
One of the mayor anxieties I experience is not having enough food to serve especially when people are visiting, and I know I am not alone in this. I always end up with tons of left overs and most of the time I manage to reuse the cooked meal to create a new one. Sea food especially molluscs are the only exception, I do not like to hang on to left over fish or seafood even following a lunch to eat at dinner time, shell fish poisoning is one of the most horrible, totally not worth it. But all meats and vegetables are can be salvaged. If you are serving a lot of green salad go light on the dressing and offer a bowl of dressing separately for guests who like a lot of dressing on their greens, that way the left over leaves can be eaten later.
In order to reuse and create a new dish out of dinner left overs you need a well-furnished pantry. Eggs are essential as always, potatoes and onions also an inexpensive essential to boost left overs, a good chunk of Pancetta to fry off with vegetables to make a great pasta dish, pasta and rice of any kind are also must haves and finally dried legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and a bag of nuts never harmed anyone.
I promise you will never go hungry if you have this small list of ingredients in your kitchen and apart from the eggs all of them have a very long shelf life. I have had weeks where I over indulged in cooking during the weekend and then made it through the entire week cooking from left overs, sounds insane but it happens more often than I would like to admit. I think your brain becomes more fine-tuned with each passing meal you manage to put on the table.
A small concrete example…. Destiny for a meat filled giant courgette.
This week I filled a giant courgette with a slow cooked short rib stuffing, we had people over but still I had ¼ of the meal left over.
Parboiled around 6 medium sized potatoes, 3 shallots some steamed hogweed leaves I had in a jar in the fridge and the meat filled courgette.
In an oven proof skillet I fried off the shallots and the diced parboiled potatoes ( do parboil them remember your meat is already cooked so you cannot deal with raw potato cooking times) when browned squash the potatoes ever so slightly with a fork make a well in the centre and scatter the chopped courgette and meat stuffing, make an indentation in the centre and crack around four fresh eggs. Followed by a generous scattering of steamed greens ( these will crisp up nicely in the oven)
Place the skillet in a preheated oven and cook until the eggs cook, coddled eggs shakshuka style are always a good indicator for sufficient cooking time, plus they taste delicious.
This was yesterday’s lunch, we had enough for six generous portions out of a meal that used up six potatoes, four eggs and three shallots apart from the left over courgette. What’s not to like? This week try this exercise in your own kitchen and feel free to post any pictures of the rescued dish on my face book page, or using the Soil&Spice hashtag on Instagram;