I absolutely hate waste, so half my miniscule fridge is full of scraps of this and that which I can’t bear to chuck. Until now, I rarely managed to use many of them up before the inevitable rot set in but, at last, someone has written the essential book for the thrifty, the resourceful, the scrape-the-mould-off-rather-than-throw-it-away people like me.
Love your Leftovers, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, came out last week and it will soon be followed by a BBC1 programme, presented by HFW, about waste. It may not sound very sexy but, to me, knowing how to use up leftovers is an essential part of cooking well. I have to declare an interest – I worked as a kitchen porter on the book, which basically means eight hours of washing-up and rushing to the corner shop a day (breaking my arm on one of those rushes just tells you how devoted I am…) – but I wouldn’t have done so if I hadn’t thought the book and the recipes would be a joy to work with. And they were.
The essential brilliance of this book lies in its thoroughness. A lot of us know how to use up mashed potato (bubble and squeak, potato cakes, hash) or cooked meat (shepherd’s pie, curry, sandwiches) but here you’ll find ideas for using up everything, and I mean everything. Fish skeletons? Fry them for a snack. Squeezed lemon halves? Use them to flavour salt. Watermelon rinds? Pickle them. It is almost exhausting in its breadth and yet, at the same time, exhilaratingly creative.
I particularly like the organisation into types of leftovers and there is a helpful and beautiful diagram that helps you find recipes for the most frequent ones, like milk, bread, cheese, and rice. When I have too much dairy, I’ll make paneer and potted cheese, too many vegetable peelings can become potato peel or stem soup and, when I have pretty much nothing but what’s in my storecupboard, plus a few sorrowful greens, I’ll be very happy to make this ribollita.
I made it for the first time last night. Having spent three days in bed suffering from some virus and still in my pyjamas, I needed to cook something that was both soothing and required no shopping. Scanning the ingredients list for this I realised I had pretty much everything. Well, everything that I needed (the book encourages adapting and adjusting as required and I knew it would survive without celery and leftover roasted roots). I also made it with less stock because I only had 600ml of homemade stuff but that gave it a lovely thickness which I liked; add more if you want it soupier. My only other change was to add some grated Parmesan at the end too. If I’d turned the page and had sausages I might have made the quick cassoulet; if I’d had some cooked chicken, I might have made the chicken and bean stew. Like one of those choose-your-own adventure books from childhood, this is a book that takes you in all directions, depending on what you have in your cupboard. We should all try and waste less and use up more of what we have; this book will help you do that with delight.
Ribollita (adapted from Love your Leftovers)
Makes enough for 3-6, depending on how much stock you use
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil, 2 tbsp plus a little for drizzling (I used rapeseed for the latter bit)
garlic cloves, 2
tinned whole tomatoes, 400g
leftover Parmesan rind (optional, if you have one; if you don’t then start saving them now for this soup and others like this)
leftover greens or salad leaves
good bread, 4 slices (sourdough if you have it: I didn’t so used homemade spelt bread)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
tinned cannellini beans, 400g
tinned chickpeas, 400g
fresh rosemary, small sprig
chicken stock, 600ml to a litre (depending on how thick you want it)
1. Peel and trim the onion and carrot as required then chop them finely.
2. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat then add the onion and carrot and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft (about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).
3. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop one of the garlic cloves, roughly chop the tinned tomatoes and drain and rinse the beans and chickpeas.
4. When the onion and carrot are soft, add the chopped garlic and rosemary and stir everything together for a minute. Add the tomatoes, beans, chickpeas, stock and, if you have one, the Parmesan rind. Season with black pepper, bring to a simmer then lower the heat.
5. Cook for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop your greens and, if using, grate some Parmesan.
6. After 20 minutes, if your greens are raw, add them to the ribollita and cook a little longer until the greens are just done, so about 5-10 minutes more depending on their size/thickness. If your greens are cooked you can add them right at the end just to heat them through.
7. After 25 minutes, lightly toast your bread, halve the remaining garlic clove (no need to peel) and when the bread is done, rub each slice with the cut side of the garlic and put the slices in deep bowls.
8. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the ribollita then spoon it over the bread, drizzle a little olive (or, in my case, rapeseed) oil over the top then, if using, sprinkle with some grated Parmesan.