This is my favourite time of year. The day after Christmas when we get to enjoy the fruits of yesterday’s labour and feast on the greatest gift of the season: leftovers. Every year I thank Santa for a fridge full of cooked meat and veg (and M&S trifle), which I “ready steady cook” into exciting new dishes, from Cajun rice stew to ham and sauerkraut croques.

But not everyone feels the same. While some see holiday leftovers and think possibility, others see an albatross. American food writer Tamar Adler ( is the author of An Everlasting Meal (Swift) and The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A to Z (Scribner). She considers it her “life’s work” to bring people round to the potential of leftover cooking. To those who delight in leftovers only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, she asks: why can’t this be a model for sustainable cooking the rest of the year? Why don’t we generate extra to make into new dishes as a matter of course? In other words, leftovers can be liberating. 

Now more than ever, we may want to exercise thrift and minimise waste. But as Sue Quinn, author of the upcoming Second Helpings: Delicious Dishes to Transform Your Leftovers (Quadrille) points out, leftovers are appealing because they also save time and effort and “are often tastier than the original meal because the various ingredients have had a chance to cosy up and for the flavours to develop”.

Smoky vegetable dip, from Second Helpings by Sue Quinn
Smoky vegetable dip, from Second Helpings by Sue Quinn © Facundo Bustamante

“When I was a teenager,” she adds, “I used to laugh at my mother for storing a single floret of broccoli in the fridge. Now I see that as a delicious snack. The other day I made a beautiful open sandwich with two stalks of broccoli that I finely chopped with grated parmesan, olive oil and hot chilli powder, spooned onto bread, topped with mozzarella and fried on one side.” She was following a cardinal rule of leftovers: cheese makes everything better. Others include: anything can become an Italian ragu; and spice is your friend.

As for storing leftovers: “Foil is your enemy,” says Quinn. You want to be able to see what you have. She prefers clear stackable containers with dates marked on them. Adler divvies up her leftovers according to final destination. Containers might be labelled “For turkey tacos”, “Frittata-to-be” or “Tomorrow’s egg salad”, where the latter might simply be a couple of boiled eggs. Such labels enact what she calls a “cognitive lift” (the hard work of planning is already done), which makes using up leftovers easier. Adler also practises “refrigerator cooking” which means, for example, storing leftover beef in leftover gravy, so the meat stays moist and deepens in flavour before both end up in a stew or soup.

So, the big question, what to do with leftover turkey? If not classic turkey and cranberry sandwiches, Quinn suggests cooking something with gravy (to add moisture) and making a feast of it, so the turkey doesn’t drag on any further. In the UK the default is turkey curry, which can sound depressing if you don’t think expansively. There is more to curry than curry powder and sultanas. Why not try Thai green, Sri Lankan red or Indonesian yellow curry this year?

A leftover curry can be a terrific starting point for a new dish. In her book, Adler suggests adding rice, herbs and spices to turn chicken (or turkey) curry into biryani. Or broth, coconut milk and fish sauce to make chicken curry stew. Quinn has a similar recipe for curry noodle soup and another for transforming one night’s takeaway curry into the next day’s toastie with lime pickle. At some point, you lose track of where you started and are reminded of American food writer Calvin Trillin’s observation: “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal was never found.”

Beef and blue cheese pizzette with garlic butter, from Second Helpings by Sue Quinn
Beef and blue cheese pizzette with garlic butter, from Second Helpings by Sue Quinn © Facundo Bustamante

For other bits and bobs, my favourite recipes (see below) from Quinn’s book include a cheese and chutney puff pastry tart for using up cheeseboard scraps; soup muffins for leftover soup but also gravy and braising juices; and a roast potato salad with warm bacon, caper and chive dressing. To make this, she cooks extra potatoes and hides them from her family. In her household like most, leftover roast potatoes are an oxymoron. Also great for roast leftovers are her recipes for beef and blue cheese pizzette, smoky vegetable dip and roast dinner enchiladas.

For leftover gravy, Adler’s book offers a simple solution: using it as a dip for sandwiches. She suggests adding dried figs to mulled wine, boiling and eating it with yoghurt or ice cream. And slicing Christmas cake thinly, then toasting, buttering and layering it like a tartine with gorgonzola cheese and fig jam or marmalade and cooked bacon.

As for leftover Quality Street chocolates – which in my household means a sickly amount of Orange Crèmes and Strawberry Delights – her advice is to offload them into a piñata and redistribute them at your next big party. It’s called regifting. What could be more festive?

Cheese and Chutney Puff Pastry Tart

Cheese and chutney puff pastry tart
© Facundo Bustamante
Leftovers: bits and bobs of cheese, fresh herbs
Serves: 4–6
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 1 hour

This tart is divine: creamy, cheesy loveliness inside a flaky pastry case, with sharp pickles to cut the richness. It’s ideal for using up scraps of cheese – see my tip below. I’ve specified puff pastry here because the light, buttery crust works brilliantly with the rich filling, but do use shortcrust if you prefer.

1sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
125ml (½ cup)full-fat (whole) milk
125ml (½ cup)double (heavy) cream
3large eggs
200g (about 2 cups)grated or crumbled cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tbspfinely chopped fresh chives, parsley or other herbs, plus extra for sprinkling
3–4 tbspchutney or pickles (see tip below)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Line a 23cm (9in) loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry, pressing it gently but firmly into the edges. Trim off any excess (freeze for later) and prick the base all over with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes.

  2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/gas mark 6 and place a baking sheet inside. Crumple a sheet of baking paper, uncrumple it, then use it to line the pastry case. Fill with ceramic baking beans (or dried beans or rice), making sure they cover the base right up to the edge. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans/rice and bake for a further 10–15 minutes until firm and pale gold.

  3. Meanwhile, beat together the milk, cream, eggs, cheese and herbs with a fork. Season generously with salt and pepper.

  4. Remove the tart case from the oven on its baking sheet – it will make it easier to transfer back to the oven when filled. Don’t worry if the base has puffed up a bit – just press down gently with your hand protected with a clean tea towel (dish towel). Spread a thin layer of chutney over the base of the tart case, then pour in the filling. Sprinkle the top with the extra cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set (the middle will still be slightly wobbly), then scatter with chives.


Including a mix of cheeses, at least one with good flavour that melts well, like strong Cheddar, Lancashire, Gruyère, Comté or Taleggio, as well as a little punchy stuff like blue or Parmesan. Pizza mozzarella (the drier grated stuff, not fresh) is great for meltiness, but don’t use more than a quarter of the total amount, as the tart might be too oozy to cut. Use up those near-empty chutney jars loitering in the fridge. Fruity chutneys are fantastic – mango, fig or apple, for example. Finely chopped pickled walnuts scattered over the base of the tart work incredibly well too, as do caramelised onions from a jar.

Takeaway Curry Toastie with Lime Pickle

Takeaway curry toastie with lime pickle
© Facundo Bustamante
Leftover: takeaway or homemade curry or stew, bits of cheese, naan or flatbread, curry sauce
Makes: 1
Preparation: 10 minutes

It’s hard to be precise about quantities because much depends on the size of your bread – just don’t use too much filling or your toastie will leak. Make toasties with any leftover homemade stew or curry. This is my favourite technique for making toasties, but if you’re in possession of a proper toasted sandwich maker, use that.

Leftovermeat or vegetable curry
Butter, for buttering the bread
2medium slices of bloomer or sandwich loaf
Chopped coriander (cilantro) or parsley (optional)
35g (about one-third of a cup)grated Cheddar or other hard cheese (not Parmesan)
1 heaped tsplime pickle (or other pickle)
  1. Scoop the meat or veg out of the curry sauce and roughly chop.

  2. Butter each slice of bread on one side and place buttered-side-down on a chopping board. Spread one slice of bread with curry sauce and top with the chopped meat/chicken/veg and herbs (if using). Top with cheese. Spread the other slice of bread with pickle, then close the sandwich.

  3. Heat a frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and add the sandwich. Place a piece of baking paper on top, then a heavy object (I use a small pan with a can of beans in it – the weight compacts the filling, so the cheese melts more quickly). Fry until golden underneath, then flip and repeat. Ensure the filling is piping hot before serving.


Making naan bread pizzas: warm a splash of oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry leftover naan bread, or any other flatbread, until golden underneath. Remove from the heat, spoon over some leftover curry sauce and top with grated cheese. Place under the grill (broiler) until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Roast Dinner Sausage Rolls

Roast dinner sausage rolls
© Facundo Bustamante
Leftovers: cooked meat or sausages and vegetables, vegetarian sausages or meat alternatives
Makes: 16
Preparation: 25 minutes plus 15 minutes cooling
Cooking: about 25 minutes

When I was a school-kid in Australia the warm smell of sausage rolls wafting under the classroom door heralded lunchtime. It meant my food order of choice – flaky buttery pastry wrapped around slightly greasy mystery meat – was on its way, borne warm in brown paper bags by lunch monitors.

The best thing about homemade sausage rolls is that you know what’s in them. They’re ideal to make after Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas lunch or a Sunday roast; turkey, ham, pigs in blankets, lamb, beef, chicken, roasties and vegetables can all be wrapped in pastry with brilliant results.

2 tbspolive oil
1onion, finely chopped
1plump garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tspdried mixed herbs
450g (1lb)leftover cooked meat and/or vegetables
2 tspchipotle paste or other chilli paste
2 tspcrème fraîche, cream or milk (if needed)
40g (3 tbsp)cold butter
1 sheetready-rolled puff pastry, about 35cm x 23cm (14in x 9in) or roughly 330g (11½oz) from a block
1egg, lightly beaten
½ tspnigella seeds
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/gas mark 7 and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

  2. Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) and gently fry the onion with a pinch of salt over a medium heat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and mixed herbs and fry for a couple more minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and leave to cool to room temperature.

  3. Chop the leftovers by hand or pulse in a food processor. Don’t overdo it; the mixture should be rough not smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the leftovers to the bowl with the onions and add the chipotle paste and crème fraîche. Grate in the butter. Mix well.

  4. Lay the pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface with a short side closest to you. Fold the top edge down to meet the lower edge and lightly press to make a crease along the centre. Unfold and cut along the crease to make two smaller rectangles.

  5. Fold each of the small rectangles in half along the short side. Unfold and cut along the crease to make four rectangles 9cm x 23cm (3½in x 9in). Place a quarter of the filling along a long side of each pastry rectangle. Squeeze the filling as you go so it holds together. Brush the facing long edge with egg, then firmly roll into a log. Press to seal firmly. Repeat with the remaining filling and pastry.

  6. Cut each log into four equal pieces and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Bake for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve hot.


Adding a small quantity of cooked lentils, rice or other grains to the filling if you need to stretch out your leftovers. If you have uncooked sausages to use up – they’re among the most wasted foods – sausage rolls are the answer. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) and gently fry 1 tsp of fennel seeds for a minute or so, then add a finely chopped onion. Fry gently for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the meat from 450g (1lb) sausages (just snip the casing and squeeze it out), some chopped fresh herbs and lots of salt and pepper. Mix well and leave to cool. Fill the pastry and bake according to the method above.

Leftover Soup Muffins

Leftover soup muffins
© Facundo Bustamante
Leftovers: soup or stock, bits of cheese, odds and ends of herbs
Makes: 4 large muffins
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 25 minutes

This recipe is based on one I spotted in a French issue of Elle magazine. The idea sounds a bit crazy but really does work. The soup serves as the liquid for the batter but also delivers lots of extra flavour. And it’s a great way to use up bits of cheese.

Use any soup, but if it’s chunky, blitz to a purée first in a blender or food processor. The amount of soup you need to add depends on how thick your soup is. Stir in just enough to make a thick batter that falls easily off the end of a spoon. If you have more leftover soup than specified in the recipe, just scale up the rest of the ingredients. Or freeze the soup for another time.

120g (scant 1 cup)plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tspbaking powder
1 tspgarlic powder/granules (optional)
¼ tspfine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbspolive oil
1large egg, lightly beaten
About 120ml (½ cup)leftover soup (more or less, as needed)
50g (about ½ cup)grated strong cheese (Cheddar, Comté, Gouda)
A small handfulfresh chopped herbs (optional)
1spring onion (scallion), finely chopped (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4, and line four holes of a large muffin tray with paper cases or baking paper.

  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, garlic powder (if using) and salt and pepper together with a fork. Add the oil and egg to the flour mixture and stir. Then add enough of the soup to make a fairly thick batter. (See recipe introduction.)

  3. Stir in the cheese and, if using, the herbs and spring onion. Add a splash more soup if the batter is too thick. Distribute between the muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes until golden. Delicious served warm.


Adding a small handful of seeds – sunflower, nigella or poppy seeds work beautifully – to the batter with the cheese. Whisking a teaspoonful of spice into the flour mixture such as cumin, paprika, curry powder or garam masala.

Other ideas…

You can use leftover stock in the muffins. I’ve even used a wine and tomato braising liquid left over from slow-cooking a shoulder of lamb with excellent results.

Roast Potato Salad with Warm Bacon, Caper and Chive Dressing

Leftovers: roast potatoes, scraps of bacon or ham
Serves: 2-3
Preparation: 10 minutes

Carbs doused in a sharp, salty, buttery dressing – it’s very easy to eat a lot of this dish. I’m aware that in many households (mine included) the term “leftover roast potatoes” is an oxymoron of sorts because there are rarely any roasties left after a roast dinner. However, I’ve taken to cooking extra (and hiding them) so we can enjoy this the next day with leftover cold meat and salad.

250g (9oz)roast potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tbspolive oil, plus a splash for frying the bacon or ham
2-3smoked bacon rashers (strips) or 40g (1½oz) leftover ham, chopped
1½ tbspsherry vinegar (red wine vinegar is fine)
30g (2 tbsp)butter
1garlic clove, finely chopped
1 heaped tbspcapers, roughly chopped
2 tbspfinely chopped chives 
Mayonnaise, for drizzling
  1. Have the potatoes ready in a serving bowl – you want them to be ready to accept the dressing while it’s hot.

  2. Warm a splash of olive oil in a frying pan (skillet) and add the bacon or ham. Fry over a medium heat until crisp at the edges. Scoop onto paper towel and set aside.

  3. Add the vinegar to the same frying pan set over a medium heat. Scrape up any crispy bits with a wooden spoon while the vinegar bubbles. When reduced a little, add the olive oil, butter, garlic, capers and cooked bacon or ham. Stir everything together and let the mixture bubble gently for a minute or two.

  4. Pour the hot dressing over the potatoes, add most of the chives and toss to combine. Drizzle over the mayonnaise, scatter over the remaining chives and serve immediately.

What about…

Using cold boiled potatoes for this instead of roasties.

All recipes from Second Helpings by Sue Quinn (Quadrille, £18.99)


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