It all started with green beans!!! Now don't worry, this is not yet another coronavirus article designed to scare people half to death. This is about a particular quirk of mine, which I have been indulging for years, and challenges myself against food waste. It's all to do with a few practical, yet silly little things I do when prepping vegetables in the kitchen. I have been doing this for so long now that it's become as natural and as normal as shelling peas, even though I don't do much of that these days, as the best peas seem to come in frozen packets.
Naturally, you can't beat the taste of those, hand reared and plucked, but when all you want is a cupful of peas with your mash, you don't really need to spend twenty minutes shelling and sorting. In a realistic world, there's no guarantee that the peas inside any pod are anything to shout about. I have been seriously disappointed on many an occasion with one pea championing the size of a marble with the rest struggling to be seen with the naked eye. But back to the beans!!!
When cooking French green beans many people just toss the whole lot in the boiling pot. I like things neat so tend to cut the tips off. Now here comes the anal bit - I also like my beans to be more or less the same length. Why not? It looks nice! I used to throw any off-cuts away. But then I started to salvage and snip the oddments into small pieces before freezing them in ziplock bags. Also, near the end of the week there always seemed to be a few lonely beans left sobbing in the fridge getting bendier and bendier before they invariably ended up in the waste. I snip those up too (always before they get too bendy or God forbid, spotty!).
Also, into this magic bag go red and green pepper off-cuts. When preparing peppers, I always have bits left over, especially the curvy bit around the core. They used to go into the bin as well, but now I cut every visible piece of red or green flesh off, and bag'em! Carrots also end up in the bag, peeled and diced smallish along with any odd bits of onion that previously ended up in the refuse. Oh! I also add a few frozen peas to each little packet as well, and try to fill each bag with an equal mix of chosen off-cuts. Being in ziplock bags they fit nice and flat in the top of your freezer drawers.
It might sound like a fussy bother but it's not really that time consuming at all, especially if you get into the habit of doing it as you go along. Besides, as we are all stuck indoors for a while, we have all the time in the world. Children can also get involved, plus it teaches them about utilizing waste - a valuable life lesson for their future!
I usually use a handy handful of my veggie-mix along with a large diced and cooked potato as the base in my version of a traditional, Majorcan 'ensaladilla rusa'. Add a chopped boiled egg and a strained tin of tuna, bind with mayonnaise and `voila' - almost something from nothing!
These days, with the morbid scare of leaving the house to buy grocery produce, having a handful of prepared veggies freely available from my magic bag has become a welcome and additional bonus in my personal food rationing programme. Something which could have easily ended up in the bin now livens up rice or pasta dishes. Turns a plain omelette into a star. And even makes boring lentils or cous cous tons more interesting, when sautéed first in a pan then added to the finished dish with some herbs and spices. Many cultures across the globe would make an entire meal out of rice and a few vegetables!
I have another bag in which I freeze the ends of leeks, the stalks of mushrooms, chunks of unused onion, chunks of carrots when I've bought far too many, discarded roots of celery, fennel and any chopped vegetable I've not used by the end of the week. The contents of this magic bag go into my stock pot when I'm making soup, another staple mainstay in times when we are all trying to make our supplies stretch a little further. A big pot of hearty soup can last for days, and the addition of a handful offideuci or any small pasta shapes bulks it out beautifully. These kind of meals seem to get even better when re-heated.
If I only ever use half a pepper in a recipe, I divide the remaining half in two, de-seed it and freeze it in another trusty ziplock bag. These frozen peppers came in very handy the other day when I made a quick, substantial meal for two using the said peppers in my freezer along with two fat sausages that reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock, and a few other simple ingredients in the larder.
Two really tasty meals from almost next to nothing! And in these days when it's not so easy to get out and about, we really need to stretch our ingredients along with our imaginations when we prepare our meals. When ingredients are scarce, take advantage of everything you can.
Stay calm. And above all - stay at home!
SAUSAGE AND SWEET PEPPER CASSEROLE
This recipe was for two, but double or treble to your requirements. Basically one large fat sausage per person is enough, but use whatever amount you fancy. Skin, and form each sausage into three or four balls.
• 1 large onion, sliced
• 1/2 red pepper
• 1/2 green pepper
• 1/2 yellow pepper all sliced thinly
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1 level tsp dried rosemary
• l level tsp dried oregano
• 1 bay leaf
• I smail jar 350g passata or tomato frito
• Small handful of cherry tomatos.
Heat a good splash of olive oil in a frying pan or flameproof casserole. Fry sausage balls until golden and remove. Add onions and saute 5 mins then add garlic, pepper strips and rosemary. Cook for a further ten minutes until soft. Retum sausage balls to pan with tomato passata, bay leaf, oregano, cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Fill empty passata jar to 1/3 with hot water from the kettle and swirl to get all the tomatoey juices. I also crumbled and dissolved a small piece of stock cube into the water for maximum flavour. Cover and simmer for 20 mins, stirring in fresh parsley at the end if you have any. Serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. Try not to use all the red pepper and tomato sauce when you serve. It's a good idea to deliberately keep some back or make a little more than you need.
Next day, I cooked plain macaroni pasta combined with the leftover sauce, and a small amount of aubergine, cubed and sauteed in a little oil. I finished the second dish with a good grating of cheese.