When it comes to cooking leftovers, anything goes, says Val Warner. Here he reveals some of his most recent concoctions and explains why you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace a frugal-looking fridge
As the hairs on my head begin to grey, I’ve been flicking through some of the recipes I wrote many years ago and have been struck by how over-complicated some of them seem. In short, as I get older, my cooking is becoming far simpler. These days I tend to take stages out of a recipe, rather than add them in, and I now question the complicated French techniques I once revered.
It’s also true that little work is required to make good food and that ingredients are often best left unmeddled-with. What’s more, my love for Japanese and Italian cuisine continues to increase, along with my love for quietly scanning recipes to weed them of seemingly silly excesses of fancy.
At present, my favourite hobby is ’not shopping’, which I undertake in an attempt to achieve the ultimate empty white room style fridge (100 bonus points if you manage to empty yours). This pastime is also supported by my using up of store cupboard ingredients, as well as a desire to empty the frozen graveyard that is my freezer. My tired intestines are certainly enjoying a more frugal attitude to food come Easter, but they are still happy to punctuate this scaled down approach with a less frequent lunch or dinner out.
It’s helpful that my kitchen, at present, is the size of a backgammon board. It’s barely big enough to swing an anchovy in, so minimal cooking and little fuss isn’t as likely to lead to that hand grenade style aftermath that a less than tidy cook experiences.
And so, the other night I made garlicky mash (garlic boiled in the same pan as the potato) with browned butter and some remaining snips of dill. I flopped a dressed crab on top, alongside a gem lettuce, lemon and salt – delicious.
Thursday found me cooking two duck legs smeared in plum jam, dusted with dried rosemary and roasted alongside some withered Jerusalem artichokes; a meal any Northern Scandinavian would be proud of. My chicken stock no longer welcomes the joyous troop of bright carrots and frisky celery tops either. Instead, I’m opting for just water, salt and bones.
As I write, I have a couple of eggs to hand, a packet of gelatine and the final few sips of sherry from a bottle. My simpler version of eggs in Aspic now simply awaits the addition of some tarragon from my window box and a squeeze of lemon.
I recently threw together some fishcakes using leftover porridge, cooked trout, onion and parsley and fried them in bacon fat – just as good as any made with potato. I’ve also discovered that apples, onions, ham and Stitchleton cheese make a truly lovely pasty, while carrots tossed with skinned orange segments, raisins, olive oil and toasted cumin is a great breakfast.
In short, I’m jettisoning cooking baggage whilst simultaneously discovering that working with little can lead to inventive and deeply pleasing cooking. Last night, butternut squash fared exceedingly well in a fish soup alongside chipotle. For tonight’s meal, I have some chicken livers, a tablespoon of leftover miso, seaweed salt, some crystalised honey, an orange, wrinkled ginger shoyu and a cabbage (destined for a good char) – that’s more than I need.