‘Delicious, quick-as-a-flash, no shopping required, everyone loves it’. If this little phrase of unlikely bedfellows sounds like the stuff of culinary fantasy – in the same vain as self-emptying dish washer and easy-clean juicer, then prepare yourself for a little surprise. This wish list for heaven in the home eating is yours for the taking by simply embracing a few basic principles and ideas.
Imagine opening the kitchen cupboard doors and fridge; glancing at the veg rack, and instead of seeing empty spaces, decaying produce, yesterday’s remnants and a scary ensemble of dry goods, you were able to instantly visualise effortless, tasty pizza (with a golden thin and crispy base made from a flour tortilla). Imagine a topping on that pizza of char-grilled courgette strips, succulent roasted pepper (last week’s old veg), a thin spread of Bolognese sauce (three day leftovers), all topped with melting, bubbling cheddar (was dry, with the first bloom of mould). Or how about a golden-fried fish cake stuffed to the gills with tuna mayo, green flecks of blanched broccoli stalk, garden peas and tender potato? And then to finish – a tasty layered dessert made from last week’s croissant (magically transformed into soft sponge), sweet, juicy nectarine (which only minutes previously could have made a couple of overs of test cricket it was so under-ripe), and a raspberry-streaked crème fraiche.
Chances are you’ve probably consigned all the ingredients gone to make the above dishes to the bin at some time or another based on anything from expired best before date to “it’ll be rotten by the time we get back after the weekend”. Most food waste comes from a combination of phobia, false perception and paranoia: A phobia of re-heating – propagated by the dark forces of the European food police; a false perception that slightly brown or bendy means inedible and paranoia that an expired best before may poison you.
The first issue to tackle is the phobia of reheating, and the cornerstone of fulfilling that opening line fantasy. You can re-heat just about anything for days after it’s been cooked: chicken, rice, pasta, Bolognese sauce, roasted red pepper, blanched broccoli, etc. etc. The fridge life of any of this stuff is considerably extended by having your fridge on a good, cold setting – mine is just one notch away from freezing stuff. Just make sure you cool your cooked food to room temperature as quickly as possible (thin layers always cool quicker than thick), and then refrigerate or freeze in plastic lidded containers.
Secondly, just because your courgette wouldn’t take first prize at the village fete doesn’t mean it won’t be transformed from tired and bendy into tasty and good-looking with a quick blast of heat from the char-grill plate. Scratch beneath the surface is the battle cry here, and you’ll be amazed what gems you unearth. And finally, just because it’s stale (bread products) or past best before (everything) doesn’t mean it’s a has-been only fit for the scrap heap. Those dried herbs and spices are a treasure trove of flavour for the mundane and the everyday, so let aroma be your guide – not the date.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that fruit and veg deteriorates because of enzyme activity which is magically halted through cooking. So, once cooked, you’ve temporarily suspended that deterioration, and you have the double whammy of a load of pre-cooked ingredients in your fridge or freezer that simply need combining in whatever manner you fancy and then simply re-heating. Believe me, it’s a lot easier to conjure up a fish cake recipe from nothing when you’re looking at fluffy, cooked mash in the fridge than a gangrenous green tattie with a ‘don’t you dare’ glint in its sprouting eye.