I get weirdly excited when I can use up a bunch of left-overs or small quantities of fresh food that were just a little more than I needed for the original dish. In fact, I often buy/cook more than I need so I can actually create left-overs and then use them in something else.
Examples of left-overs could be meat or chicken from a roast, rice, grilled veggies like sweet peppers, onions or aubergines, the dregs of a can of sweetcorn, the last bits of cheese, the end of a packet of mushrooms or baby spinach, or the last spoon of cream cheese. Obviously the key with many of these ingredients is not to leave them too long before you use them, and definitely sniff them beforehand!
I’ve found some of the best dishes come about through the left-overs I have on hand – which is why you will often hear me say about an ingredient that ‘I happened to have it in the fridge’. Sadly, it’s sometimes difficult to recreate these dishes but at the time, they are often fantastic.
Some savoury base ingredients which lend themselves to using left-overs are pasta, rice, nachos, bread, salad or egg. To one (or more) of those bases, you can add bits of meat, cheese and/or veggies, and possibly consider binding it all together with some kind of sauce or dressing.
For hot dishes, I’m partial to cheese sauces myself, either made properly as per my recipe here or just mixing some smooth cottage cheese with a basil, rocket, coriander, tomato or olive pesto.
For cold dishes (and sometimes hot ones too), I like mixing plain yoghurt with herbs, mustard, lemon juice, pesto (again – it is SO useful), chutney, sweet chilli, mayonnaise or practically anything else from a bottle in my fridge.
On the sweet side, I have used left-over biscuits or muesli in the base for a tart or cheesecake, the last broken bits of chocolate or nuts in meringues, little pieces of cake in trifle, small amounts of custard over bananas or other baked fruit, broken bits of meringue folded into cream or sprinkled over strawberries, the last spoons of stewed fruit stirred into yoghurt or poured over ice-cream, etc, etc.
Sometimes it doesn’t work but often it does, especially if you take the time to imagine beforehand how adding each ingredient to a dish will affect its taste. Since I’ve always cooked that way, I was quite surprised to find out recently that not everyone can naturally do a mental taste test, but there’s no doubt that it’s something you can get better at with practice.
Experimentation is the key so be adventurous and clear out that fridge!