"There's a universal sweet spot by the fridges familiar space in which we've all stood, door ajar and locked into a staring match with the fridge's contents. It's existing in that limbo between yourself and the next meal, waiting for inspiration to strike." Tara Wigley/OTK Shelf Love
This is last night's dinner. It doesn't look that great - well not as great as I wanted it to look and I think that's because of a mistake in the method, which I will come back to. It's not that great a photo either, but then I'm not a professional photographer and I wanted to eat. But it tasted pretty good.
So I decided to feature it as an example of the fridge raid, and all that that entails. More than you might think at first sight.
The primary objects of focus, were leftover roast vegetables - cauliflower and brussels sprouts; small bits of ricotta and feta, leftover chicken from my Claudia Roden failure; an almost dying red capsicum and too many tomatoes.
At first I thought I might make a tomatoey, cheesy, chicken pasta sauce which included those roast vegetables. However, although I pondered on this for some time, in the end I decided to go with a tart - not a quiche, but an open one of some kind. Something like this example from delicious. And immediately you are into whether to use filo, puff or shortcrust. I had all three, but decided on the shortcrust, and the galette approach, because it's that much simpler. I never have a huge amount of success with puff pastry and I didn't fancy a quiche, or a filo tart. Another reason for the galette - or rustic tart - approach was that you don't have to do the baking blind bit first.
To prevent the tart base going soggy I decided to have a base layer made from the cheeses with a bit of grated Parmesan too. I boosted this with a few marinating olives that have been lingering in the fridge. I removed the pips and then mashed them into the cheeses with an egg, garlic and some chopped parsley and dill - also needing to be used up. Oh I almost forgot - I also mashed up some pickled peaches and added them to the mix. Or did they go in with the vegetables and chicken?
I decided to boost my few roasted vegetables with the red capsicum (roasted, skinned and cut into chunks), some carrot - cooked briefly with some butter and sugar added to the cooking water, and some roughly chopped onions. Plus a few frozen peas, so that I could tick off my weekly aim to eat more legumes.
As for the tomatoes - these were skinned and chopped and cooked with a little tomato purée, and the juices from the chicken, until almost a purée.
The oven was preheated to its pizza setting which helps the bottom to be crusty. The pastry was rolled into a large circle and placed on baking paper on a largish tray. Cheese mixture spread over the bottom. Vegetables on top, tomato on top of that and, the finishing touch, some shredded mild chorizo salami. Fold over the pastry and cook until done. About half an hour.
The big mistake, I think, was the tomato. I should have spread that over the cheese and topped with the vegetables and chicken before the salami on top. The vegetables would have charred a little bit and maybe also more of the juices would have been absorbed. However, the taste was good. We are not talking five star food here, and it really doesn't look that great once you cut into it, but really not at all bad. And, of course, we only ate half. I just cannot make this kind of thing for just two people.
It set me to wondering however. Am I only able to 'throw' something together like this because I have been cooking for years, and have read a lot of cookbooks, or could anybody do this? Of course they could if they had a recipe. After all they don't need to make the pastry. You can buy pre-made pastry, shortcrust, filo or puff. But not everyone has recipes even though they are immediately available on the net, and besides there might not be a recipe for exactly what you have.
However, without a recipe, I suspect a 'beginner' cook would not be able to do this. They might know enough to go the pasta, stir-fry or even the soup route, but perhaps not the tart route. Which is very sad, because it's a lot of fun, and the end result is semi-impressive. As Henry Dimbleby says: "You need to know which leftovers can be turned into what, and how."
There are a huge number of books, magazines, and internet posts of one kind or another on using up leftovers and one of the best ones I think, that should possibly be given to every teenager is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Love Your Leftovers. It's one of my favourite books, not because of any particular recipes, but because you can look up a particular kind of leftover - be it specific - like carrots - or more general like pasta, or you can approach from the other end and look up a particular kind of dish that can be made from leftovers - like pies and tarts. It's full of ideas.
That said I'm not sure that any young person who finds themselves having to feed themselves for the first time on their own, with no cookbooks and no experience, because they didn't take time to learn from their mother, will be able to look in the fridge, see what needs using and make something palatable from that. Of course, you could just throw caution to the winds:
"Winging it with what's to hand can be so liberating - flinging in this or that with the joyful abandon that comes from not trying too hard or expecting too much." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Really though. Too hard. It is, of course, much easier these days for the novice cook. They can just Google up something, or explore Tik-Tok. Type in 'what can I do with some leftover chicken?' and you will get literally thousands of suggestions. Which, of course, is part of the problem. Too many. How do you choose? Well I guess everyone finds their favourite source after a bit of experimentation. Like me and my favourite cooks.
It's small wonder I suppose that the young resort to takeaway and eating out, but this, of course, is damaging to the budget. It also takes time to cook something. Well not always of course. Some things can be whipped up in virtually no time at all - Pasta with tomato sauce, a tray bake, soup ... My experiment was not particularly fast. I'm a slow chopper and mixer - I suppose I spent an hour or so on it in total if I include the cooking and the washing up and the decision making. I enjoy cooking. Others don't. But they could. The young think they have better things to do.
As always I think the answer is to get them young and teach children to cook in school. In fact it's an essential life skill. At some point in your life everybody will need to know how to cook. Well unless you are born into an incredibly wealthy family and you retain that wealth throughout your life. And no, don't teach them how to make cookies and cakes. Teach them how to make scrambled eggs, spaghetti bolognaise or a tray bake. Tray bakes, it seems to me is possibly the first thing you should learn to cook. After all you just throw a whole lot of stuff into a tray, mix it all together and roast in the oven until done. A wonderful source of experimentation and fun it seems to me. Surely kids would love it.
Alas you can't just look in the fridge, take things out and cook something wonderful - or even just good. You need to know what goes with what, how much of each thing, how to cook them and so on. And it has to be taught in school. You can't rely on mums - they are possibly too busy or need these cooking lessons themselves. Mind you there's always YouTube.
Tonight it's steak Diane though. From a recipe.