With a little imagination you can rustle up a fantastic feast with what you find at the bottom of the fridge, says Alex Rushmer
The bottom of the fridge can either be a gold mine or a terrifying dumping ground. This is particularly true at the moment, when edible whims are far more difficult to ignore and the desire for any sort of novelty takes hold with what can often feel like awesome ferocity. With at least two meals a day to prepare, cook and eat, no doubt everyone’s fridge spends most of its time looking like an exhibition of edible curios dating back several weeks. There are certainly a few jars lingering right at the back of my refrigerator that may be of interest to the British Museum.
Often a brave attempt at fridge archaeology yields little more than items that are destined solely for the compost pile. Slimy bags of mixed salad, mummified carrots, papery spring onions and sad-looking half bunches of herbs are all regular visitors. I view it as a personal failing when such items end up in the bin.
But occasionally there are rough diamonds buried amidst the refuse, secreted in hastily folded foil packages, or hidden inside a repurposed takeaway container. More often than not these are elements that have outlived their original purpose – a couple of cold sausages, half a portion of green vegetables or a tiny bowl of rice – but have the potential to live again given a little imagination and effort.
These are skills that we seem to have forgotten over the past few years as food has become cheaper and more plentiful, but are well worth rekindling.
A Spanish-style omelette can be an excellent refuge for many small items, as can a batch of fried rice, especially if a jar of kimchi or tub of gochujang is also a regular inhabitant of your fridge. Both of these are dishes that grace the table with some regularity, particularly if inspiration is in short supply.
The revered title of ‘king of the leftovers’, though, will always be reserved for a pie. Even the most mundane selection of ingredients can be elevated to glorious heights simply by hiding them within a pastry overcoat. Part of the majesty of a pie is that it hides its secrets so well: only the pie maker truly knows what to expect when that first, tentative, cut is made through the burnished lid (and even then, it can be a bit of a mystery).
I was reminded of this recently when, after a forage well into the depths of the fridge, I discovered a few choice items that individually amounted to very little but had great potential to work as a team. Chief among them were several nuggets of cheese that had been forgotten after having been attacked late on New Year’s Eve. Each was insufficient by itself to fill a small sandwich, but in combination they certainly had potential. Usually I would be averse to double-carbing, but desperate times call for desperate measures and the current situation certainly qualifies.
What’s more is there were also boiled potatoes that needed to be rehomed, so a sleep-inducing, cheesy starch-fest became an inevitability. As a concession to health, I also added a layer of cavolo nero that, having been freshly picked from the garden, didn’t qualify as leftovers but was still an excellent addition.
The pastry, I confess, was purchased – I keep three or four sheets of puff pastry in the freezer for precisely this reason – but a homemade shortcrust would have worked just as well had I the patience. The resultant pie was a marvel and fed us handsomely for one dinner (fresh from the oven) and two lunches (straight from the fridge), after lengthy morning walks with the whippet. Sometimes it’s almost worth deliberately cooking too much, just for the leftovers.