The Nigella effect can even make banana skins appealing – but what else could you salvage?

As the TV cook causes a stir by revealing how to turn overripe skins into a curry, Felicity Cloake shares her tips for leftovers

Nigella Lawson
Nigella raised eyebrows on her new series Credit: Jay Brookes/BBC

I didn’t turn a hair at her “Psycho moment”, when she stabbed at a leg of lamb in her 2017 series At My Table, or raise so much as an eyebrow when she whipped up brownies in a silky £65 dressing gown (though won’t somebody think of the dry cleaning bills?) – but this week, Nigella Lawson finally managed to shock me. 

It wasn’t the leopard-print knife in her new BBC Two show Cook, Eat, Repeat that stopped me in my tracks, or even her mashed-up fish finger dish, but a banana skin curry, which, she assures us, has a “wonderful velvety texture” and is akin to eating aubergine.

Viewers were divided on how appetising it looked – given that the overripe skins had been soaked in boiling water until they resembled something you might find on the compost heap. But, as someone who shares her “quaking horror of throwing anything away”, now I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl. Perhaps banana skin bread could be the Lockdown 2 treat. 

But bananas aren’t the only fruit to have hidden depths, nor are they the only kitchen leftovers with which you can whip up a feast…

Apple peel: Delicious folded into cake batter, or roasted with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon until sweet and crisp. Don’t waste the cores, either, they can be used – along with the peel – to make jam, which works well with ham, or just stirred into yogurt.

At this time of year, I’m eating as much citrus as possible so I can use its aromatic skin in baking. Not only is candied peel an essential in mincemeat and Christmas puddings, but it makes a lovely gift, especially when dipped in chocolate. For a quicker fix, add the grated zest to jars of sugar or salt and use for seasoning or to coat the rims of cocktail glasses.

Vegetable skins: These deserve better than the bin – like Heston Blumenthal, I add potato peelings to the pan while parboiling roast potatoes to give them more flavour. But baked in a hot oven with a little oil and salt, they also make a moreish snack – the same goes for squash and pumpkin seeds. 

Scrubbed beetroot peel turns vodka a beautiful pink, as well as giving it a sweet, earthy flavour that’s perfect with blinis and sour cream. (On the subject of drinks, everything from cucumber peel to pineapple cores are a pretty way to flavour jugs of water – almost as good as being at a spa.)

…plus the tops and stems: We all know that broccoli and cauliflower stems are just as good to eat as the florets, and that the leaves can be shredded and added to the mix. But next time you cut the leafy tops off a bunch of carrots, give them a taste. They have a slightly bitter flavour, rather like parsley, and are tasty as a garnish, or whizzed up with oil and lemon juice to make a salsa verde, while aniseedy fennel tops can be used in place of dill. 

Beetroot tops, meanwhile, are a lovely salad leaf when young, and can be steamed or sautéed when bigger. Dry celery tops in the oven and then crumble into coarse salt: perfect with quail’s eggs or in a Bloody Mary. And, like with Nigella’s skins, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the liquid in tins of chickpeas or beans is an astonishingly convincing substitute for eggs in meringues or mayonnaise. 

Cheesy bits: Save hard cheese rinds to add to soups. And whizz up any odds and ends of different cheeses with a splash of white wine and crushed garlic, plus a spoonful of cream cheese or crème fraîche, to make a dip. If you’ve been left with the remains of a ploughman’s (unimaginable I know) don’t chuck it out – jars of leftover pickle brine are a good base for salad dressings. I make vinaigrette in old jars of mustard, chutney or honey to get the last scrapings of flavour out. 

And while I’ve never found coffee grounds much of a deterrent to slugs, they do add depth to chilli con carne and make a great rub for roast pork, as well as being welcome in anything involving chocolate (the same holds true for the dregs of coffee in the pot). 

Waste not want not, as my granny used to say – and the compost bin’s loss is our gain.