It’s funny to think that many of our favourite comfort dishes, from meat pies to stews to fruit puddings, actually come from simple, humble origins, back in the day when food was there to be used and any surplus a rare luxury. Traditional dishes that every country now upholds with pride were once just ingenious expressions of how to use up food that was available and in season.
It was commonplace to cook meat or fish on a Sunday, the leftovers of which would be stripped and used the next day in a pie or lasagne, for example, and the bones used to make a stock for soup the following day.
Of course, choice, convenience and abundance have meant we no longer cook in this way – we buy choice cuts of meat to add to our steak and ale pie, we can make summer pudding any time of the year and fish stock is bought ready-made either in cube or liquid form. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to choose when I eat a pie, but it’s kind of a shame that we don’t value food in this old-fashioned way.
With that said, there are still dishes in every culture, which only exist as a way to use up leftovers, even in this day and age. Take bubble and squeak, a British classic, which turns the leftover roast potatoes and vegetables from Sunday dinner into a delicious fried hash patty. This is the type of dish that just doesn’t taste the same if you make it from scratch, which is what makes it a true leftover recipe. Here’s our top ten leftover recipes from around the world.
These pancakes, or klatkager, are what the Danes make to use up leftover rice pudding, traditionally eaten at Christmas. Mixed with sugar, flour and eggs, fried with a knob of butter and served jam, these are incredible. Check out Nordic Food & Living’s blog for the recipe.
Pytt i panna or ‘little pieces in a pan’ is basically a Swedish hash, where leftover meat and vegetables are fried and served with a fried egg on top. Basically a Scandi version of our bubble and squeak, it’s a delicious all-in-one dish.
Oozy, cheesy and utterly delicious, arancini balls are the Italian answer to day-old risotto. Literally translated as ‘little oranges’, arancini is said to hail from Sicily, introduced to the country by invading Arabs back in the 10th century. The rice is combined with mozzarella, rolled into balls and deep-fried – filling and indulgent in equal measure.
Pain perdu is my favourite French import, otherwise known as French toast and literally translated as ‘waste bread’. Being French, my mother would always make it for Sunday breakfast – soaked in a milk and egg mixture, stale bread is fried and served with a good sprinkling of sugar. Most regions in France have their own way of making it – some use warm milk, some make it savoury with cheese and ham and some even use triple sec.
In a similar vein, zemlovka is the Czech version of British bread and butter pudding, which we scoffed on a recent trip to Prague. This warming and homely treat makes use of stale bread rolls, which are then soaked in sweet milk and baked with apples and raisins. Czechs actually eat zemlovka for lunch or dinner rather than dessert or breakfast, but we think its suitable for any part of the day.
Ribollita literally means “reboiled” in Italian. Traditionally made by reheating the previous day’s minestrone or soup, this Tuscan dish consists of seasonal veg, cannellini beans and stale bread.
Nasi goreng is arguably Indonesia’s national dish and a delicious way to use up leftover rice. With the addition of a syrupy sweet soy sauce, as well as shallots, garlic and tamarind, this beats Chinese fried rice hands down.
I’ve never had trettazini before but my love of cheesy pasta means I couldn’t leave this out – basically a pasta bake, it combines leftover meat, fish or seafood with mushrooms, spaghetti and cream sauce and is a common way to use up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. Pure comfort. If you’re wondering why it sounds so Italian, it was supposedly named after the Italian opera singer, Luisa Tretazzini, who lived in San Francisco in the early 1900’s.
Bratkartoffeln is what Germans do to use up cooked potatoes. Very similar to Swedish pytt i panna, potatoes are sautéed with bacon, onions and lots of butter, what’s not to love?
Mexicans use up stale tortillas by way of chilaquiles. Tortillas are fried, cooked in a chilli salsa and sprinkled with cheese. They’re basically the Mexican equivalent to Italian panzanella, where fresh tomatoes are used to revive stale ciabatta. Mexicans generally serve this for breakfast, though, and usually with an egg on top.