Waste not, want not

Food waste is a hot economic and environmental topic, and the new year is a great time to start as you mean to go on, cutting waste and cooking more economically. Here, Jane Pikett gives you some top tips and use-up recipes…

Brought up by parents who never forgot rationing, I would no more consider binning food simply because it’s out of date than I would swap a tenner for a fiver. The result of this is that during the winter I make soup at least four times a week, and in summer anything surplus goes into a salad or a stir fry.

The nation’s patience with food waste is running out, and a great example of how we can better use resources is presented by REfUSE –
a social enterprise in Durham which every month intercepts around 12 tonnes of food that would otherwise go to waste from retailers around the North East. REfUSE then redistributes it through a ‘pay as you feel’ community café and restaurant in Chester-le-Street, through its private catering brand Conscious Kitchen, partnerships with other charities, and its Waste-Not Box delivery scheme to homes.

So what can you do at home to minimise waste? Well, most of it is obvious – use what you buy and batch cook for the freezer. You might also try the following…

Water your veg
Store the stems of broccoli, celery and asparagus in water to keep them fresh and crisp. Similarly with fresh herbs, cut the bottom of the stems with scissors, fill a glass or a jar halfway with water and place the stem ends into the water. Cover with a plastic bag and store in the fridge. Also, keep the leaves dry and don’t rinse them until you use them.

Under wraps
Take vegetables out of any plastic bags before you store them, remove rubber bands or metallic ties, and wrap in paper towel to absorb any moisture.

Don’t wash
Moisture is the enemy of freshness, so don’t wash produce before storing it. Also, make sure there’s room for air to flow, again to keep moisture down, so don’t cram everything into tiny spaces.

Out of the cold
Some foods keep better outside the fridge. This includes bread (which should be in a cool dark place like a bread bin or cupboard) bananas, pineapples, potatoes (the starches in potatoes turn to sugar in the fridge, which affects the flavour and how they cook), onions, garlic, and cucumbers. Anything that continues to ripen, such as avocado, tomato, mango, melon and apple should be kept out on the kitchen counter.

Freeze leftover sauce from a homemade pasta dish, soup or stew. Lightly stew and freeze apples (use later in pies and crumbles), tomatoes (use later in pasta sauce and on pizza), strawberries (use in smoothies). Mix herbs with olive oil and chopped garlic, and freeze in ice cube trays for a handy addition to sauces, stews, risottos etc.

On the sauce
Many leftovers can be transformed into sauces and dips. For leftover beans or pulses, mash with garlic, lemon juice and herbs for a hummus-style dip. Use avocados in guacamole, and make salsa from tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Bread rolls past their best? Put them in the oven for a few minutes to refresh. Use up stale bread by making it into breadcrumbs. You can freeze them for later, or mix with herbs and onions for a fish, chicken, or aubergine topping or stuffing.

Compleat eating
Cauliflower leaves – wash them, toss in oil and curry powder, lay on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until crisp.
Carrot leaves – whiz in a food processor with olive oil, garlic and parmesan for a carrot pesto gorgeous drizzled over roasted carrots.
Cabbage hearts – Shred into salads, soups or stews.
Herb stalks – Parsley, coriander, basil and mint stalks are good in dips and sauces, and blitzed in pesto.
Sprout tops – Great in stir fries, soups and stews.
Leeks and spring onion greens – use them as you do the rest of the stalk.
In a pickle
I love pickled anything – onions, eggs, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, garlic, beetroot and more. If you’ve got a veg patch glut or you’ve come home from the market with bags of reduced produce, this is a great way to use it up. You can use the recipe below, or variations on it, for any veg you fancy pickling. Experiment and see how you go…

Pickled carrots

Ingredients – 300ml white wine vinegar, 300ml water, 250g caster sugar, 1 tsp mustard seeds, ½ tsp fennel seeds, 4 medium carrots

Method – Peel and julienne the carrots. In a pan, mix the white wine vinegar, water, caster sugar, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Bring to the boil for 2 mins then pour over the carrots. Cool and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
Stock Up
Not only does homemade stock take dishes to new heights, it’s also a brilliant means of using up scraps and gluts. Stock starts with a mirepoix, which is just a smart name for the vegetables that flavour the water. A classic mirepoix is a mix of onion, carrot and celery. You can use just about any vegetable, apart from brassicas because they will add a bitter taste or potatoes because they will cloud the stock. And if you’ve been throwing away the tops or bottoms of root vegetables, use them for stock. I always used to boil stock to death until a chef told me that boiling breaks down the vegetables and any bones in there, and that clouds the stock. So stick to a gentle simmer and skim constantly as you go, keeping a pan of warm water nearby to clean your ladle. Unlike stock made from animal bones, veg stock doesn’t need prolonged cooking, so start tasting it after 30 mins gentle simmering and don’t leave it on the heat for more than 2 hours. Chicken stock is the one way you get to really use the whole chicken carcass, and it’s great for cooking pasta and as a base for soup. Fish stock is great for seafood-based dishes like paella. Leftover salmon carcass is ideal. When it’s done, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Leave to cool to room temperature then refrigerate. For meat-based stocks, remove the fat that solidifies on top of the stock. You can freeze it in ziplock bags or ice cube trays.

Chicken stock

Ingredients – leftover carcass from your Sunday roast; 1 carrot, in large chunks; 1 onion, skin on, quartered; 1 leek, in large chunks; 1 stick celery, in chunks; 1 clove garlic, bashed; bouquet garni of 2 parsley stalks, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf, tied with string; 5 peppercorns; 1 clove

Method – Place all ingredients in a large saucepan with a pinch of salt, cover with 2 litres water, simmer for 3 hours, skimming regularly. Pass through a sieve and store in the fridge for a week or freeze. For a veg stock, simply leave out the chicken.
Pasty fantastic
Got a (deliberate) excess of bolognese sauce, curry, or stir fry? Use the leftovers for this, everyone’s favourite pasty!

Everyone’s favourite pasty

Serves 4

Ingredients  – 1 sheet shop-bought puff or shortcrust pastry; leftover bolognese mince (or stew, etc); grated cheese; 1 beaten egg

Method – Cut circles in the pastry to whatever size you want your pasties to be (remember the circle will be folded in half so allow for this when cutting; a large mug is a good mini-pasty size for a finger food). Put a tablespoon or so of the mince mixture (careful that there isn’t too much liquid or it will be soggy and leak) on one half of the pastry (if bolognese, sprinkle with a little cheese). Leave a 1cm space clear around the mixture. Don’t overfill the pastry or it will end up bursting when cooking. Using a pastry brush, brush a little beaten egg on the 1cm space and fold the pastry over so the edges meet. Using your finger or a fork, press the edges together to seal. Brush with egg, place on a greased baking tray and bake at 200C/Gas 5 for 20 mins or until pastry is golden.  *Use any leftover sauce, stew, curry, or stir fry. Just keep the liquid to a minimum, and only add cheese to the bolognese!
Hearty minestrone soup
Use any veg for this soup – as hearty as you like!

Ingredients – 3 tbsp olive oil; 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 celery stick, finely chopped; 1 carrot, finely chopped; 1 courgette, finely chopped; 70g pancetta, chopped; 1 garlic clove, crushed; ½ tsp dried oregano; 400g tin cannellini beans; 400g tin chopped tomatoes; 2 tbsp tomato puree; 1.2l vegetable stock; 1 bay leaf; 70g small pasta; 100g greens (kale, chard etc); handful fresh basil; parmesan to serve

Method – Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, courgette and pancetta for 10 mins. Add garlic and oregano and cook for another minute. Add the beans, tomatoes, purée, stock and bay leaf. Season and simmer for 30 min. Add pasta and greens, simmer for 15 mins. Season and serve with parmesan and fresh basil.

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