If, like me, you have had a tough time sourcing food recently, you may have become more attached to leftovers, and using up every scrap. Right now, it seems essential to make the most of all our supplies since there is a clear sense that this could go on for several months, not just weeks. But there’s more ways to this than just cling filming the bits that can be reheated the next day. Here are three other tips that will help you squeeze every drop of flavour out of your shopping, and teach you some new recipes at the same time.
First, always zest a lemon. Or orange. Or grapefruit or whatever citrus fruit you are about to eat or use. If you are about to start peeling it to eat the fruit, or if you are about to slice a lime in half, to squeeze the juice, then zest the skin first. You can then either freeze it or dry it, whatever you prefer/have room for, then use it at a later date. Try lime zest in a Thai-inspired soup or salad dressing (with lime juice, fresh coriander, salt, sugar, oil).
Dry some orange zest and stir it into a jar of salt with some coriander seeds, and use it as a finishing touch for stews, or mix it with some sugar and sprinkle it over some just baked biscuits or in muffins. And lemon zest makes a delicious addition to cakes but it is also brilliant mixed into a simple vinaigrette, stirred into a pot of just cooked lentils with some olive oil or chopped with parsley and garlic, to make gremolata, which can be sprinkled on any kind of grilled meat, fish or soup.
Gremolata will also turn Sunday lunchtime leftovers into something a little bit more special (see below). If you want to learn of all the ways to use citrus, then I highly recommend Catherine Phipps’ book on the subject, and following her on Instagram; she is the queen of all things zest.
Second, if you eat meat, always buy whole birds or skin-on, bone-in pieces. Let’s take a chicken. Even if you don’t eat the skin, you can render down the fat, store it and use it for cooking. If you eat the skin but don’t want it in your dish, remove it and turn it into chicken scratchings.
If you roast the bird whole, you may be used to putting the carcass into a pan of cold water with a carrot, onion, bay leaf and some peppercorns to make stock but you can do this with the bones from pieces too, so don’t waste them. Basically, if you have bones at the end of a meal, put them in water, add a carrot, onion, bay leaf and a few peppercorns, bring to the faintest of simmers and leave for an hour or two (the time will depend on how many bones you have).
Even if you don’t have the vegetables or aromatics, you can still make a stock. If I ever buy pieces now, e.g. for a curry, and the recipe requires cubes, I take a pair of kitchen scissors, cut out the bones (and cut off the skin, if also not needed), then put the bones in a pan immediately, cover with water and simmer. Sometimes the stock is ready in time to use in the curry, sometimes not, but it’s never wasted. More ideas for using it coming soon.
Finally, discover the delights of orzo, or any other small pasta, as a way of making a dish from nothing. If you make a stew or a roast, or any kind of meaty dish at the weekend, and you have what looks like not very much left, plus maybe a few leftover vegetables, the addition of orzo (a small pasta, which resembles rice and, yes, is available everywhere) can make a whole new dish.
Today we had leftover oxtail, with more bone than meat remaining, a few tablespoons of sauce and not much else. I poured over some boiling water, stirred in a handful or two of orzo, brought it to a simmer and let it cook until the grain was tender (about 8 minutes in this case). I then served it with some leftover lemon zest chopped into gremolata and it was delicious. It really felt like something from nothing.