Left but not over

Last updated 05:00 15/07/2010

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It's a common scenario: opening the fridge to find a forlorn bunch of herbs, half-eaten stale bread, or leftover pasta. Rather than tossing them in the bin, a bit of ingenuity can turn not-so-fresh ingredients into tasty dishes. Remember the rules of yesterday and use every last morsel. 

Bread

Slightly stale bread is perfect for french toast (add ground cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise to the beaten egg). And, a classic panzanella salad uses bread that is not too fresh; just cut crusts off, toast in a hot oven, then toss with diced tomatoes, red onions, torn basil and dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Sliced bread and breadcrumbs freeze well. Use to make meatballs adding parsley and parmesan. Or make skordalia (a Greek dip). Try this: take four slices of stale bread, remove crusts and soak in water briefly. Squeeze the bread and put it in a food processor with three cloves of garlic, the juice of half a lemon and a generous amount of salt. With the machine running, drizzle in olive oil until it has a smooth consistency. Taste and adjust the flavours.

Herbs

Soft green herbs such as parsley, coriander and mint have a limited lifespan but if they start to look limp, don't let them go to waste. Any soft herbs (or a combination) can be whizzed in the food processor with olive oil and spooned into jars and kept in the fridge for a week (make sure there is a layer of oil over the top of the paste to prevent it discolouring). Add any combination of anchovies, garlic, chilli, toasted nuts and grated parmesan when processing. Use this simple herb base when making cooking sauces; or toss it through cooked pasta; or smear on char-grilled bread and cover with cheese, then grill until bubbling and golden.

Fruit

Fruit can quickly turn from underripe to past its prime.

For a simple dessert, generously butter slices of good- quality bread. Lay in a buttered baking dish, top with halved stone fruit or slices of pear or apple, sprinkle with plenty of castor sugar, dot with butter and if you wish, a drizzle of sherry or brandy.

Bruised apples can be peeled, cored and sliced, then sauteed with butter, brown sugar, star anise, cinnamon and rum.

Vegetables

Use those saddo carrots, halved onions and lost celery stalks to make vegetable stock. Put them in a heavy-based pot with bay leaves, peppercorns and whole garlic cloves and fill two-thirds with water. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain the stock (reserving the vegetables) and use it to cook puy lentils, cannellini beans or risoni. Dice the cooked vegetables and toss through the cooked lentils, beans or pasta, drizzle generously with olive oil, and add a squeeze of lemon juice, freshly ground pepper and a generous grating of parmesan, or a dollop of ricotta.

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Wine

Can wine go to waste? Sometimes, though, there is that last centimetre or two in a bottle. Sautee shallots in olive oil with anchovy fillets until they melt, add a good slurp of leftover wine and let it reduce for a couple of minutes. Drizzle over cold roast chicken or use to dress warm steamed potatoes. This will also keep in the fridge for a day or two.

Egg whites

Egg whites can be frozen and they keep well covered in the refrigerator. Use them up in classic meringues and pavlova - or make macaroons.

Try this: Orange coconut macaroons.

Preheat the oven to 150deg C. Beat two egg whites until stiff and gradually add 100g of castor sugar until the mixture becomes glossy. Add 120g of desiccated coconut, one teaspoon of orange zest and one tablespoon of orange juice. Mix carefully. Spoon dollops on lined trays and bake for about 14 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Egg yolks

Use leftover egg yolks to make classic sauces, such as bearnaise or mayonnaise.

For a hollandaise, put 100g butter, two egg yolks (or three if you prefer it slightly thicker) and the juice of one lemon in a double boiler. Stir gently over simmering water until it thickens.

Making your own mayonnaise is much simpler than it sounds. Put two yolks in a bowl, add half a tablespoon smooth mustard and the juice of quarter of a lemon. Season generously with salt and pepper and whisk. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil, until the mixture emulsifies. Chopped chives, dill or tarragon go well with home-made mayonnaise.

Pasta

Leftover pasta is good for a crisped pasta dish. A cup of cold pasta will make a dish for two. Try this: have the leftover pasta at room temperature rather than chilled. Heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan. Add 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic and 1/2tsp-1 tsp dried chilli then the pasta, spreading it out across the pan into a pancake-like shape. Don't stir. Let pasta crisp on bottom. Sprinkle generously with parmesan or any strong hard cheese and 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs and then grill until crisp and golden. Serve in wedges.

Mashed potato

Shape cold mashed potato into patties. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan in a bowl. Flour the patties, dip them in beaten egg and then the crumb mixture. Chill for about 20 minutes before frying them until golden.Fairfax

- The Press

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