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Operation waste not: week five

Categories: Expert guidance

As part of a mission to tackle food waste, Sybil Kapoor offers tips on utilising leftovers

There was a time, before the internet, when a person could be judged by their books or CD collection. A sneaky glance around their home would quickly reveal their character. Nowadays it’s not so easy—but you can gauge their taste by surreptitiously inspecting their fridge.

I have to admit that I would be mortified if someone inspected mine, but it’s surprising what the state and contents of our fridges say about us. Every ingredient tells a tale.

Are you a whole milk or skimmed milk person? Is your fridge stuffed with exotic herbs and miso paste, or carefully organised with butter, eggs and cheese? Is it stacked with microwavable TV dinners, or are you struggling to shut the salad drawer full of leafy vegetables?

I fall into the messy fridge category. As you might expect, undertaking this blog has made me save every last bit of food and being somewhat obsessed by food hygiene, my leftovers are decanted into clean containers, left to cool (if hot) and then covered properly. You don’t want anything dripping or falling into your food, especially if it’s already cooked.

Well-spaced
Since the bottom shelf is the coldest, it is reserved for raw fish and meat. The next shelf up contains cooked foods, and that is where my fridge starts to become a jumble, albeit well-spaced. It’s important to allow sufficient room in a fridge for good air circulation. This ensures that the entire fridge retains its chill.

The fact that my leftovers tend to be too small to make a proper family meal adds to the higgledy-piggledy nature of my fridge. Portion control when cooking is ideal, but realistically, most of us misjudge quantities. Excess cooked pasta is a classic example.

I often over-estimate how much spaghetti or pasta shells I need, so end up tossing the remains from the colander in a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. These are decanted into clean, covered containers before chilling. Cooked pasta should be eaten the next day.

You can turn it into a single portion salad (packed for lunch) or try and extend it into a small gratin by adding lots of vegetables by mixing the cooked pasta with sautéed onions, garlic and aubergine or mushroom, adding some cherry tomatoes and topping with a cheese sauce (or lots of taleggio). Bake until hot and gooey and serve with a generous salad.

A simple vinaigrette
Incidentally, if you have the time, it’s worth making the pasta salad the night before, as the flavours seep into the cooked pasta. I usually make a simple vinaigrette—one tablespoon of vinegar to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil—into which I mix some peeled, diced fresh tomatoes.

Then, depending on what is to hand, I will mix in some of the following: chives or basil, finely grated lemon zest, garlic, fresh chilli and diced stoned olives. You can also add diced, roasted, peeled pepper and crumbled feta or soft goat’s cheese.

I try to regard my messy but clean fridge as a blessing in disguise. Discovering a forgotten ingredient can become a source of inspiration, especially when rummaging for ideas for supper. Prizing out a packet of radishes, hidden beneath a cauliflower, for example, can lead to a crunchy salad or retro-1980s mixed veg,

For the latter, just blanch a selection of vegetables such as radishes, baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli florets, then heat some butter in a frying pan, add some sugar snap peas (optional), quickly followed by your blanched vegetables. Toss until warm and glossy and serve.

Indian-style salads
If you’re a salad nut like me, radishes are also wonderful in Indian-style salads. Quarter the radishes and mix with peeled, diced cucumber and apple or pear, then season with salt, black pepper and lime or lemon juice. It’s delicious with tandoori fish or meat.

Finding the end of some double cream can inspire a luscious pudding, gorgeous mixed into diced pineapple with a hint of roughly grated orange zest and kirsch. It’s also very good drizzled over a sugary stew of apples, especially if you add some raspberries from the freezer.

A few tablespoons of double cream are also perfect as the base for a spaghetti sauce with a little parmesan. My current favourite is with fried bacon, shallots and peas, but you could add sautéed mushrooms with a dash of wine.

A common object of neglect in my fridge is watercress. I can never resist buying a big bunch, but often fail to eat it quickly. As a result, I’ve developed a repertoire of ‘cooked’ watercress recipes to extend its life. These range from the obvious leek and watercress soup, to watercress relish.

Toasted sesame seeds
To make a relish, simply blanch the washed watercress, stems and all, squeeze dry and lightly dress to taste in toasted sesame oil, Kikkoman’s soy sauce, mirin and toasted sesame seeds. It’s lovely with teriyaki chicken, salmon or scallops.

If I have the time, I’ll blitz it into a custard with a hint of tarragon or chervil for a salmon and watercress tart, or turn it into a creamy watercress sauce for an old-fashioned chicken fricassee with carrots and mushrooms. As with the soup, these dishes have the added advantage of freezing well.

I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to my character, based on the state of my fridge.