Here’s a story of something nice I made from desperate leftovers populating the refrigerator, with a non-recipe “methodology” I experiment with a lot…  If you are turned off by smelly fishes and even the idea of “herring sauce”, please you really must read on…

One of my goals as a blogger is to share my enthusiasm and experience making tarts.  I set out to learn how to feel confident baking them without need for recipes or set quantities, and I believe I’m finally there.  I’m even nearly finished a massive post about fruit desserts,  a post of which I feel proud and believe I’ve cracked the nut for all of us how to work creatively with whatever we have on hand — both in terms of flours and meals for the pastry, and fruits, nuts, dairy, preserves, whatever, for the filling.  Tarts as fun, festive, and most of all… easy.  Because they are elegant somehow, and when you present them, everyone ooooos and ahhhhhhs in a most satisfying way.  And if you bring one to a community meal, or a potluck, it will be gone early on…

Today I was looking at our tiny fridge overflowing with small amounts of lots of things, and was struck with the necessity to begin using a lot of it up…

and Lo! there was some pastry dough leftover from the pumpkin pie I made at Thanksgiving — mixed white and brown wheat, a little rye and a little buckwheat, with an autumnal flavour (white flour tastes insipid to me these days) and a toasty nice colour when baked.


(Notice in the photo how patchy the dough is– after I rolled it out, the dough hardly fit the square template, but pastry is forgiving and you can patch and press in , etc, belying any idea that it’s fiddly or difficult.)

But what to put in this case (once I’d baked it blind [pre-baked it])? I just removed a lot from that crowded fridge and kind of scratched my head and the gods of Ready Steady Leftover-Cook struck me with lightening:

–Some pieces of smoked mackerel bought by hubby reduced-for-clearance and not MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified.  I inquired of Young’s (a British fish company) about this and they wrote back right away: “Through our Fish for Life programme on responsible sourcing, and our 10 Principles of Responsible Fish Procurement, we’re committed to ensuring that great quality fish is accessible to all, now and for generations to come. Young’s supplies a lot of fish that comes from MSC certified fisheries.”  She wrote further, really taking my interest to heart:

“Young’s Fish for Life programme involves assessing fisheries, on whether they meet our standards on responsible sourcing, ensuring that we only use responsibly sourced fish. As part of Fish for Life we also support some fisheries on their Fisheries Improvement work or their work to secure external certification.  The fishery was MSC before what is known as the “Mackerel war” but is now back in assessment and has always been responsibly sourced, the stock is healthy, and we’re expecting MSC re-certification by summer. “


To the mackerel, I supplemented:

— A baked jacket potato, from last night’s dinner, to be thinly sliced

— some roasted squash from another dinner, also to be roughly chopped

–1/3 an old leek, which I sautéed (and burned just a little, whoops, how’d that happen?)

–the very oniony cream sauce of gherkins and apples from a pot of Lidl (explicitly MSC certified) herring fillets– easily forgotten once the pieces of fish are gone, that sauce is, and I hate throwing it out.  Kind of a weird ingredient but nothing unnatural in it — it is sweet and sour and creamy at the same time– German tasting to me, who really doesn’t know what German food tastes like 🙂


–a tiny bit of cream also leftover from Thanksgiving — I thinned it with a little water actually — yes water, the magic cooking ingredient– knowing that the potatoes would want to keep absorbing liquid too.

–2 eggs, beaten, with a little black pepper

— a sprinkling of caraway, because I love bitter.

–some leftover broccoli to look so pretty on the top  — this was Tenderstem, taste of which I like so much but dislike buying as it’s an F1 Hybrid. (When I see it reduced on sale, I let myself buy it, by whatever self-serving logic that may be.)

— gratings of some truly miscellaneous cheese off which I’d actually cut some mould.

— fresh horseradish given to me by a lovely woman at the Crystal Palace Food Market, a really fun producers/ farmers market to visit and shop if you find yourself in South London on a Saturday. The horseradish was from a community/ Transition growing project called Patchwork Farm, an inspiring model of local growing that values even tiny amounts of produce grown on small, disconnected plots– could be a balcony, or a grow-bag outside your door, let along a garden or an allotment.  Anyway I’m so happy to have horseradish to cook and ferment with– thanks Rochelle!

These were the ingredients that went into the pastry case, and the case went into the oven for 20 minutes at pretty hot, and when I checked, everything looked firm and baked in place.

And it was good.  Really good, because how could something like this not be good? Something about the sweet/ sour Lidl sauce lifts the flavours to something unexpected, along with the smoky fish. But the point of sharing it with readers is to show that you can take assorted ingredients, unite them with eggs and milk or cream or cheese (or not) (or figure out vegan bindings, as I’ll discuss in a future post), as in the most basic quiche, and just make something beautiful from what there is.  It’s not a recipe, really, but a conceptualisation of a flan/tart/quiche that then can free you from thinking these dishes require a specific recipe.

As with the Torta di Erbe, or Fritatta type foods in general, you can make these things more or less cheesy or custardy or eggy — there aren’t rules, there isn’t “perfect” except to individual taste, there is only your sense of deliciousness, your budget and and what you have on hand.  Your cooking is a living, growing field that you can plant however you like; you are not bound to rules, or at least, I seek to free you a little from recipes….


This will be nice to eat with some sauerkraut and a green salad of lambs lettuce and landcress, which are growing well despite the frosty mornings.