Happy endings for leftovers

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With the relentless onslaught of the ready-made meal, not to mention pizza, hamburgers and other takeaways, plus the ubiquitous "I'll just rustle up some pasta and a salad" syndrome, the idea of turning a leftover roast or other cooked meat into something interesting is rare these days.

A fond memory is the rissole. We would always have them on a Monday evening. A cold joint would be cut and scraped from the bone, forced through the mincer (a hand one is my earliest recollection), together with an onion or two and then some bread. This cleaned out the last remnants of meat from inside the mixer, and added bulk and body to the mix. A beaten egg was then mixed in and that was that. There might have been the odd leftover roast potato which also went through the mincer and perhaps parsley, too, but those were mere vagaries. What I certainly do remember, is that these rissoles were very, very good indeed. I can see them now, briefly rolled in flour and fried in good dripping, their surface golden and crisp from the spitting fat. Ketchup was the essential provider of piquancy and lubrication. And there would always be potato fritters. These were slices of raw potato, dusted in flour, dipped in batter and submerged into the chip pan in batches of three or four. They were fabulously good and a perfect foil for the rissoles.

You might think this sounds like a horribly unhealthy feast. Well, I would ask you to ponder the dubious merits of a greasy, frozen hamburger with oven chips; the strange mess of sweetcorn, ham and pineapple that might top a deep-pan pizza; or the curious combination of, say, broccoli and tuna that might end up in a "pasta-bake". That last may be a so-called healthier meal, but come on, will it actually taste good?

Now I understand that roasting large joints of meat is not done as regularly as it used to be, partly due to cost and also because the traditional family weekend seems to have waned. At Christmas, however, the welter of bits and pieces that build up from three days of excess can lead to cynical cries of "Oh surely not curried turkey again?"

My leftover favourites are usually based on fry-ups - and everybody loves a fry-up, don't they? A hash is really an un-minced rissole that has been let loose in the pan rather than tethered with egg and breadcrumbs - the egg often appears perched on top and can be either fried or poached. One of the best and most well-known hashes is made with leftover corned beef or ham. But there is nothing wrong with turkey, pork, beef or even lamb hash. I have made fish hashes, too - smoked haddock is particularly fine.

Rissoles with mustard sauce, serves 6

450g/1lb cooked meat (ham, pork or turkey)

450g/llb cooked potatoes, crushed into lumps

1 small bunch parsley, leaves only, chopped

1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped, and briefly fried in butter until golden

40g/l12oz fresh breadcrumbs

1 egg

freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

flour

1 beaten egg

breadcrumbs for coating

2 tbsp oil or dripping

28g/loz butter

Flake or chop the cooked meat and mix with all the other ingredients, except the flour, beaten egg and extra breadcrumbs, in (preferably) the bowl of an electric mixer until well blended, but not a paste. Form into 12 small cakes, roll in the flour, then the beaten egg and finally the fresh breadcrumbs. Rissoles can be coated simply in flour, but the breadcrumbs give a crustier outside. In a large frying pan, melt the oil or dripping and butter until foaming. Put in the rissoles and fry gently for 7-10 minutes on each side, until well crusted and golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven while you make:

Mustard sauce

This, as you might imagine, is probably the easiest sauce you will ever have the pleasure of making. But there is always ketchup, too.

275ml/10fl oz whipping cream

2 tbsp good quality Dijon mustard

3-4 dashes of Tabasco

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and whisk in the mustard and Tabasco. Simmer for about 5 minutes until custardy-thick and unctuous. A few small capers, or even a sprinkling of snipped chives stirred in at the last minute would not be frowned upon. Please yourselves.

Hash, serves 4

A hash is the perfect brunch dish and found all over America - in the home, coffee shops, delis and diners. I cannot think of anything nicer for New Year's Day and would suggest it as a late breakfast dish, together with a jug of spicy Bloody Mary; the perfect antidote to the inevitable hangover.

28g/loz butter

110g/4oz diced bacon

225g/8oz onions, peeled and chopped

450g/llb cooked meat (beef, lamb, pork or turkey)

450g/lIb potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes and simmered until tender

2 tbsp chopped parsley (mint is a good addition if you are using lamb; sage if pork)

a little freshly grated nutmeg

a few shakes of Tabasco

Worcester sauce

salt

4 eggs

Melt the butter in a large, preferably non-stick, frying pan. Fry the bacon until crisp and then add the onions. Cook for a few minutes until soft. Now tip in the meat and cooked potatoes. Turn the heat down a little and further cook for about 20 minutes. The idea is for the whole mass to develop a crust, which is then turned back into itself so that the new surfaces form a new crust, and so on. A wooden spatula is the ideal implement here, so that you can lift up and turn the hash on a fairly constant basis. But you must allow the crust to develop before turning; too much movement will result in a dull and soggy mess.

Add the parsley, nutmeg and other chosen herbs halfway through cooking and then shake in the Tabasco and Worcester sauce towards the end, together with some salt. Divide into four portions and put on hot plates. Top each serving with a fried or poached egg. Serve immediately.

Turkey and spinach fritters, serves 4

These have lusciously gooey insides and a crisp breadcrumbed exterior. The mixture is made more delicious by the Parmesan and lemon. Cooked chicken or even ham are just as good as turkey. First make:

White sauce

275ml/12 pint milk

2 cloves

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

40g/112oz butter

40g/112oz flour

75ml/3fl oz single cream

freshly grated nutmeg

Heat together the milk, cloves, onion, bay and a little salt. Simmer for a few minutes, cover and allow the flavours to mingle for about half an hour. In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Make a roux and gently cook the butter and flour together for a minute or two. Strain the milk into the roux and vigorously whisk together until smooth (this always gets rid of any lumps). Simmer gently, using a heat diffuser pad if you have one, for 5-10 minutes. Add the cream, nutmeg and pepper, mix thoroughly, check for salt, and cook for a further five minutes. Strain again into a clean pan and put a lid on. This helps to prevent a skin forming. Allow to cool completely before using.

350g/34Ib cooked turkey meat

700g/112lbs spinach, blanched in salted boiling water, drained, refreshed under cold running water and squeezed completely dry

grated rind of 1 large lemon

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 dsp chopped fresh tarragon

80g/3oz freshly grated Parmesan

salt

cayenne pepper

flour

1 beaten egg

fresh breadcrumbs

groundnut oil for deep frying

Mince the turkey and spinach and mix together with the other ingredients, except the flour, egg and breadcrumbs, in a large bowl. Add the white sauce, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is moist, but not sloppy (you may not need all the sauce); it must be manageable in the hands when it comes to dipping into the flour, egg and breadcrumbs.

With two dessertspoons, form the mixture into ovals and place on a cling- film covered tray. Put into the fridge for half an hour, and allow to become firm. Have the flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs ready on three separate plates. Heat the oil in a deep fryer to l70C/325F, or use a deep-sided frying pan half filled with oil and heat until a small piece of bread colours golden after frying for a couple of minutes. Dip the fritters into the flour first, then the egg and finally roll carefully in the breadcrumbs. Do one at a time and place back on the tray. Fry in small batches, for about four minutes, until golden brown. Place each batch on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven with the door ajar. Serve with the spicy home-made chutney that Granny or Great Aunt Maud bought for you for Christmas

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