Why leftovers never get left over

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The Independent Culture
IF I HAD my way, all roast lamb recipes would end with the words "remove the lamb from the oven, allow to cool, and refrigerate overnight".

I suppose roast lamb is quite nice straight from the oven, with roast potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip, peas and gravy, but it's much, much nicer, much, much later.

Besides, hot roast lamb is hot roast lamb. Cold roast lamb can be an infinite number of things other than cold roast lamb. It can be thin slices in a sandwich of white crusty bread and spoonfuls of mustard pickles. It can be a cottage pie, topped with leftover mash. It can be lamb fritters served hot with tomato sauce.

Leftovers might be yesterday's heroes, but to many of us they are a far better reason to go into the kitchen and cook than whatever it is you went in there to cook in the first place.

You can keep your Saturday night dinner party with Katy and Piers, and your reduced sauces and double-shelled broad beans and finest Riedel glasses. I'd rather be invited over on Sunday night to sit around the telly with the family and polish off the leftovers.

The premiere of an opera or play is never as good as its third or fourth night - when the nerves and self-consciousness have gone, and it is oozing with well- crafted confidence.

Leftovers have seen the world and lived a little, swapped the impetuousness of youth for the wisdom of age. They are smarter, more rounded and far more giving than show-off first-night food, all dressed up and just waiting for someone with a camera to come up and snap it going to the table ("the lightly tossed salad of baby mizuna leaves is dressed tonight by champagne vinegar and provencal hazelnut oil, and is looking very gorgeous on it").

Leftovers aren't pretty, but they make you feel good, which is surely the whole point of eating.

They are proof that the modern mantra of freshness is not always desirable. Rows of flesh-pink little lamb chops, shiny bouncy prawns, and glossy eat-me chocolate cakes will always have appeal in the shops, but I get more excited opening my fridge at home to find a stack of white plastic containers, and some small enamel dishes covered in plastic wrap.

That platter of last night's risotto may not be very appealing now, but if I pan-fry it in a non-stick saucepan with a touch of olive oil, I will have the most divine crisp cake of luscious melting rice to serve as a bed for something wonderful that I have yet to find in the back of the fridge. Or I might form it into balls with a little surprise of fresh bocconcini cheese inside, and deep-fry them until the cheese melts and goes all gooey when you bite into them.

Let's face it, nobody would have invented pea-and-ham soup if they hadn't had a leftover ham bone staring at them every time they opened the fridge door. We would not have corn beef hash if we didn't have leftover corned beef. And don't even get me started on bread. OK, so I'm already started: summer pudding, bread-and-butter pudding, croutons, breadcrumbs, stuffings... indeed, life as we know it.

I know what you're thinking: that a baking tray of clammy, claggy leftover mash doesn't look too promising. But then you're not Ukranian, so you don't know you're looking at the genesis of varieniki, heavenly pockets of pasta stuffed with potato, sweetly cooked onion and a mountain of butter. You're not Italian, or you would know you're 20 minutes away from tucking in to a bowl of soft, melting gnocchi with burned butter sauce and shards of Parmigiano. You're obviously not French, either, or you would be busy turning it into light little potato crepes. And you certainly can't be English, or it would be fish cakes already.

It's time leftovers came out of the cupboard - and the refrigerator, and the freezer, and the bread bin - and into the spotlight where they belong. Then the world would realise one great and simple truth: there are never any leftovers, when you cook leftovers.