Just too many feast days all at once, don't you think? What's a cook to do?

Do I really want to celebrate Shrove Tuesday hot on the heels of Lunar New Year, and, sublime irony, a sumptuous Valentine's Day dinner on Ash Wednesday?

Realising that Ham & High readers who are in the mood will long ago have planned their loved one's special day, I'm going to ignore high days and holidays for once.

Instead, I have been thinking about another topic which seems to be having a moment, and that is leftovers. I must have written about this many times, but a search through my digital archives of almost 35 years yielded not a single article on the subject.

Paper archives going back even further drew a similar blank. This is very strange, because so much of my cooking at home is based on using absolutely everything, as was my mother's and my mother-in-law's.

However, whilst my archived articles reveal little on cooking with leftovers, my kitchen diaries, which I started keeping fifty years ago, are based on the meals I cook at home.

One night's main course becomes, for example, next day's elegant little fish salad, because cooking for two inevitably means there is something left. This "something" often produces an even better dish than the original.

Ham & High: Leftover fish can be turned into a timbale served with mintLeftover fish can be turned into a timbale served with mint (Image: Frances Bissell)

I like to roast a whole fish in the oven or steam it in a fish kettle, so if I cook a large "fish with a face", there will be enough  for a first course for next day. I pack the cooked fish into small timbales, add cooking juices or sauce and then turn them out with salad,  sometimes with mint and mandarins or persimmon at this time of year, sometimes cucumber or celeriac.

Recently I made a fish stew with salmon, cod and vegetables. There was enough fish left to remove from the broth, which I strained. The cod and salmon, with some parsley and chives added, became fish cakes, and the broth I blended with brown crab meat to make an accompanying bisque.

If I fry mackerel fillets, I always buy enough to marinate a couple of the fried fillets for a cold dish next day; capers, thinly sliced onion rings, a few fennel seeds and a generous splash of juice, pomegranate or orange.

With left-over meat and poultry, the temptation is to shred or chop and stir into pasta. I have done that often. But I also make creamy, comforting risotto with stock made from the carcase, chicken, partridge, duck etc with a few shreds of meat stirred in at the end.

The other day I made a wild venison pie. Far too much meat, I carefully removed it from the pastry, and that will make a ragu to stir through a heap of tagliatelle. Slow-cooked belly pork is delicious, when cold, simply layered in a sandwich with favourite condiments, but if I have the time, while it is still hot, I shred it with two forks to make rillettes. Left-over roast duck goes the same way.

Ham & High: The recipe calls for pistachio nuts, these are from Faraz Saffron Company, TehranThe recipe calls for pistachio nuts, these are from Faraz Saffron Company, Tehran (Image: Safa Daneshvar)

The occasional oddity is produced. Recently I made a rich, cheesy aligot to serve with a roast rack of lamb and, unusually, it did not all get eaten. Too good to throw away, I thought. Stirred in some self-raising flour, a little extra baking powder, milk and an egg. This made a good thick batter which I poured into greased rings on a hot, heavy frying pan. Cheesy potato crumpets, I thought.

They are still a work in progress, I'm afraid. As the holes began to bubble through and break on the surface, I slipped the crumpets out of the rings, not without some difficulty, and turned them over in the pan. What I should have done was slide the pan under a hot grill; instead the crumpets just squashed down. Tasty but stodgy. I'm sure you will do better.

Perhaps the most unusual recent 'transformation' was the dessert I made for Sunday lunch. The night before I had made cumin and ginger-spiced carrot purée to serve with the aforementioned venison pie. With what was left, I made a bright, fragrant carrot halva, having thought about, and discarded the idea of carrot muffins or carrot soup. I'm not sure that I would have made the halva from scratch, but it was pleasing  and satisfying to make something so different from the original ingredient.

Ham & High: Frances made her halva from leftover cumin and ginger spiced carrot pureeFrances made her halva from leftover cumin and ginger spiced carrot puree (Image: Frances Bissell)

Carrot and pistachio halva (serves 6)

This recipe is based on a notional amount of 200 g left-over carrot purée, which will make dessert for 6 people. Scale up or down as appropriate.


200 g cooked carrot purée

200 g granulated sugar

Juice and zest of half a lemon or orange

Rose water - optional and to taste; see recipe

50 g shelled and unsalted pistachios


Put the purée and sugar in a heavy saucepan and cook gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the juice and rosewater. How much of the latter will depend on how much you like the flavour and how strong it is. As an alternative, orange flower water also works very well.

Cook the mixture until it becomes translucent and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Crush the pistachios and stir half into the mixture.

Spoon into small glass dishes or cups and allow to cool before putting in the refrigerator to set slightly. Just before serving, scatter on the remaining pistachios.

© Frances Bissell. 2024. All rights reserved.