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Bounty Part 6: Leftovers

I’ve been posting this week about making use of abundance, about stockpiling against coming shortages, about taking excess and wringing every glorious delicious morsel out of it. And this should, naturally, turn your thoughts towards leftovers. Leftovers are just another form of abundance.

I mentioned previously that pizza nights tend to create a lot of leftovers. This is as true for a party of four as it is for a party of fifteen. In the pursuit of providing people with every option, you inevitably end up with excess. Even if you only prepare a little bit of each topping, if you do enough toppings, you wind up with bowls and bowls of surplus. First world problems, yo.

The amount of edible leftovers I see people throw out makes me deeply sad, because I’m acutely aware that there are hungry tummies all over the world. I’m not suggesting that we have an obligation to ship our leftovers out to the needy, but maybe if we made better use of our supplies, then perhaps those of us here in the first world would have more to share and — well, this is getting a little idealistic — maybe reduce the ecological impact that we’re having on developing countries. Making use of your leftovers means consuming less because you’re wasting less. On a micro level, consuming less means freeing up your budget each week. On a macro level, consuming less means freeing up natural resources, lowering your food miles and using less energy. Almost any way you look at it, if you have extra food, it is pretty hard to justify just chucking it out.

Following our family pizza night, M and I had spring onion and herb mushrooms with a cheese omelette for breakfast — all we provided was eggs, butter and bread and the rest came from the pizza toppings. It was fantastic (not to mention all pre-chopped and ready to go). Here you get an insight into our leftovers use and my Tabasco consumption:

Shake that spicy sauce, uh-huh, yeah

(I’ve so far managed to keep the Tabasco bottle out of most of my food photos, but I guzzle it like it can cure boring.)

I guess the thing that puts people off leftovers is the idea of eating the same stuff over and over. Which is a lazy answer, because frankly you can keep reinventing leftovers until the cows come home. When I was growing up, bubble and squeak was my parents’ default leftover-user-upper: fry a little onion in a pan and add leftover chopped meat and vegetables, heat them through and then bind it all together with a couple of eggs, stirring constantly, and serve on toast. An even lazier option is fritatta, which is roughly the same but instead of stirring constantly after you add the eggs, you shove the pan under the grill and go read a book or something while it sets.

Working with leftovers: Cutlery Drawer Pro-Tips

  • First of all, store everything correctly. Put your leftovers in the fridge, in a container or wrapped up to stop drying out. Clean jars with screw-on lids or plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids are great because you can wash and reuse them. You can wash and reuse plastic bags, too, but they have shorter lifespans.
  • Second of all, learn how to cook less and think laterally. Aiming to have no leftovers at all is the target, but it’s still fantastic if you recognise when you’ve cooked too much and start thinking about what else could make use of all that venison/pumpkin/truffle-infused leek you cooked.
  • The most obvious leftover use is to eat the same meal again. After our epic pizza night, I froze the vast pot of M’s (incredible, delicious, critically-acclaimed) leek, kidney bean and haloumi cous cous and ate it for lunch every day for a week. I’m still at it because it’s delicious. But this route isn’t for everyone: if you’ve got a low boredom threshold, it’s a bit risky.
  • Soup is the second-most obvious option because it’s awesome and easy. Roast vegetables like pumpkin, potato, carrots, beets, leeks and onions make incredible hearty soups: simply sauté the chopped veggies in butter, maybe deglaze with a little wine, then add stock and anything else you want in your soup, like leftover finely shredded meat, lentils, pasta, barley, anything. I don’t care: it’s your soup.
  • Repackage it: finely chop your leftovers and throw them into dumpling wrappers, pastry parcels or fritter batter, then cook them up again. Turn them into a pie or a topped-with-mashed-potato bake. My parents were dead keen on fritters, which are easy: chop up anything that’s slow enough to get stuck in the fridge and whisk it into an unsweetened pancake batter, then fry as big, thick pancakes and serve with relish or tomato sauce or anything else runnier than a fritter. The best thing about these is that it makes the leftovers much more lunchbox-friendly. A cold pasty or a couple of fritters in the lunchbox is easy and tasty.
  • Savoury muffins are fantastic for leftovers, too: use a muffin batter with not much sugar (or omit entirely) and top with shredded cheese — or add some chopped to the batter.
  • Arancini! Risotto gets out of hand quickly and it’s easy to wind up with way more than you need. It freezes well, but it makes even better arancini.
  • Skirlie! Fry some onion, fry some leftovers, toast some oats and serve with a poached egg or some cheese or nuts.

Basics: Almost any leftovers can be reinvented…

  • Eggs + Anything = Good chance of WIN. Bubble and squeak, frittata, quiche and omelettes can all take leftovers and run like Seabiscuit with them.
  • Leftover/stale bread makes bread and butter pudding (which can be sweet or savoury), breadcrumbs, bruschetta, panzanella, ajo blanco…and don’t get me started on French toast. Oooh baby. (Also, don’t forget that most stale bread is perfectly fine for toast — bread has to be pretty far gone before it’s no good for toasting.)
  • Toss your leftovers with cooked couscous, brown rice or quinoa, plus some herbs and a little sauce or vinaigrette of choice.
  • A favourite from my Dadin’s branch of the family is to chuck everything you want to use up into a pot, add a vast amount of curry powder or paste plus a can of tomatoes and simmer until it’s hot.
  • Two words: Riz. Otto.
  • Nearly any pasta dish can be turned into a quasi-lasagna-bake thing with the addition of extra tinned tomatoes (and olives, if you got ’em) and grated cheese, poured into a dish and then baked.

At the risk of stating the obvious: you don’t have to put everything you’ve got on the leftovers plate into your recreation. Just because you’ve got leftover peas, corn, carrots, cauliflower, potato and pumpkin doesn’t mean they all have to be used together. No food is a one-trick pony. Turn the pumpkin and carrots into soup, use the corn kernels in muffins or pico de gallo, toss the peas through some pasta, and turn the potatoes and cauliflower into aloo gobi.

Look, I could go on and on about this. I love the challenge of finding ways to use up leftovers (current favourite: using leftover cooked potato in focaccia) and I think it’s important to consume less. Eating is so ubiquitous that it can be easy to forget that the choices you make about it have vast impacts — like the chaos butterfly, the choices you make about eating have effects that seem so removed from the original choice you can barely see the link. But it’s pretty simple: make better use of your leftovers and you’ll need to buy less food. Buy less food and you’re saving money and reducing your impact on the planet. That’s pretty simple, right?

Finally: Love Food, Hate Waste is an awesome UK-based website that has tons of advice on reducing consumption and making use of leftovers. It says far more than I can say without getting shouty, it has some great meal-planning stuff and recipes galore. Go there! Then come back. I get lonely.

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