Is the cult of perfection in the kitchen fuelling food waste?

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has suggested that modern cookbooks should have a section on leftovers.

A recipe calls for half an onion but onions don't grow by the half, so you end up with half an onion in the fridge, drying out in cling film before inevitably finding a new home in the bin, where it marinades in half-handfuls of limp mint, rancid crème fraîche and enough mouldy spinach to poison a horse.

Leftovers are a challenge to all but the most resourceful cooks. According to the Government, they're also a scourge on the environment for which TV chefs must take some responsibility.

Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, deplored the amount of food we waste in a speech to the Federation of Women's Institutes last week.

He singled out the "cult of perfection" that leaves no room in our supermarkets for ugly produce, but also said the following about the Nigellas and Jamies of this world.

"Cookbooks in the 1970s and 1980s always have had chapters on using up scraps and leftovers. But this stopped in the 1990s. That is a little tiny area where you can change culture. Lots of food can be rehashed together and it is perfectly good."

Short of asking O-Patz for ministerial advice on the use of leftovers, I consulted a few top chefs and cooks and put it to them that they were helping to destroy the planet. I also asked them how, with half an eye on festive gluttony, we might make more of the contents of our fridges.

Claudia Roden, the veteran cookery writer and author of The Food of Spain, shares Paterson's concern about waste, but says chefs aren't to blame: "People throw away so much, not because they don't know what to do with leftovers, but because supermarkets encourage them to buy more than they can consume by tempting them with two packs for the price of one."

Angela Hartnett, the head chef at Murano in Mayfair, was one of four cooks who competed to make the best dishes from scraps in the BBC's Great British Waste Menu, broadcast in 2010. They discovered, among other things, that we throw away 3,500 potatoes every minute, because they are cheap and sell-by dates are often too conservative.

"It was just wrong to see how much is thrown away by sandwich stores and supermarkets," she recalls. "But I think that it's the Government who has to do something to help people better understand how and when food goes off in your fridge, so that you don't throw it away as soon as it's past the sell-by date on the pack."

A 2008 report by Wrap, the government-funded anti-waste campaign group, revealed the biggest cause of scraps to be eyes that were bigger than stomachs. Food left on plates accounted for waste worth £3.3bn a year, while ingredients not required in cooking also formed a significant chunk of the 6.7 million tonnes of food we waste a year, further highlighting the need for the smart use of leftovers (and a bit of restraint).

Hartnett points to the obvious use of leftover chicken or turkey for making stocks and soups. "The other week I went to Mark Hix's new place and we had two whole chickens. I asked for the carcasses to take away and gave some meat to the dog and made soup out of the bones," she adds. See her stock recipe, right.

For a surfeit of all the trimmings, meanwhile, try the bubble and squeak recipe by Tony Flemming, executive chef of the new South Place Hotel in the City of London.

Giorgio Locatelli, the Italian-born man with the pans at Locanda Locatelli in London, resents Paterson's lecture ("he should get off his arse and do his job") but agrees Britain's food culture has a lot to answer for.

"When I grew up in Italy my grandmother wouldn't even know where the bin was," he says. "Today, the bestselling cookery book tells you how to make 15-minute meals. How long is someone going to think about waste? We need to spend a little bit more time on cooking." Locatelli also says organisation is key: "I suggest getting a really nice set of containers that are fully sealed and you rotate in the fridge."

Roden says that seeing food where typically we see rubbish can take a bit of imagination. In the box on the righ, she suggests a Spanish take on leftover turkey. But using up leftovers can be simpler still: "My advice is to do the simplest thing. Boil it, steam it, grill it or sauté it and eat it with a sprinkling of salt and extra virgin olive oil. There is no need to do anything elaborate."

Spanish turkey

by Claudia Roden

Ingredients to serve 2

2 peeled, cored apples cut into 8 slices
Handful of grapes
2 large turkey slices, in pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoons grape or apple juice

Sauté the apple slices with the grapes in a large frying pan in the butter and oil. Turn the apple pieces over when they begin to brown at the bottom, and the grapes when they begin to soften. Add the turkey, some salt and the juice, and cook for five minutes, turning the turkey pieces over.

Boxing Day Bubble and Squeak with Duck Egg

by Tony Fleming

Ingredients to serve 4

275g mashed potatoes
75g leftover Brussel sprouts (cooked)
75g leftover stuffing (cooked)
75g honey glazed ham
4 duck eggs

Cut the Brussels sprouts in to quarters and pan fry in butter until golden brown and set to one side. Cut the ham in to thin strips and dice the stuffing in to 1cm cubes. Mix the sprouts, ham and stuffing into the warm mashed potatoes and season well.

Mould into four 125g patties and leave to cool so they set firm. In a non stick frying pan, gently fry the patties on both sides until golden brown. Do not add any oil, colour them in a dry pan. Place them in an oven at 180C for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile fry the duck eggs and season with rock salt and white pepper. Take the bubbles from the oven, place on a plate, top each one with a fried duck egg and serve.

Chicken or turkey stock

by Angela Hartnett

Chicken or turkey carcass
1 leek
2 sticks of celery
1 onion
1 bulb of garlic
1 star anise
5 peppercorns
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken in a large metal pan. Add the leek, celery, onion, garlic, star anise and peppercorns. Pour over enough water to cover the chicken, then season, bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer cook for 1 hour.

Switch off the heat and leave the chicken in the liquid until cool enough to handle. Remove the chicken from the stock and strain the stock. Bring to the boil and reduce by half.

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