From making stocks with vegetable peels to using herbs and herb stems in green sauce, try these recipes to help cut down on waste.

By Bridget Hallinan
May 13, 2020
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© John Kernick

Whenever you cook, you’re bound to have leftover bits and stragglers that don’t make it into the main dish. Vegetable peels scattered on the cutting board; Parmesan chunks grated down to the rind; leftover brine from the olive jar. In this roundup, we’ve gathered recipes that can help you utilize those ingredients instead of throwing them away.

In addition to reducing waste, adding them to certain recipes can also boost flavor, so why not use them? That's why we recommend saving leftover bones from meat dishes for stock, and transforming wilting herbs into green sauces, too, so they can be repurposed into a tasty condiment for another meal. Check out these ideas, compiled from some of our favorite recipes and the Food & Wine Test Kitchen. Read More: 7 Ways to Cook with Scraps and Help Stop Food Waste

Make All of the Stocks and Broths

This is a big one. The Food & Wine Test Kitchen recommends saving and freezing scraps like beef bones, chicken carcasses (from breaking down raw chickens or leftovers from roast chicken), and vegetable peels to reduce waste in one or two big resealable bags in the freezer. Once you’ve accumulated enough, you can use them to make stocks. Chef Jehangir Mehta uses scraps like carrot peels, onion skins, herb stems, and mushroom stems to create a vegetable stock—speaking of onion skins, you’ll want to save those and garlic skins to add a punch of flavor to soups, sauces, stocks, and braises, too.

You can use seafood shells, such as shrimp shells, to make seafood stock, chicken bones to make chicken stock, and even combine bones from different kinds of meat, such as chicken, pork chops, and steaks, to make a generic meat stock. (We have recipes for beef and turkey stocks, too.)  Don’t throw away those Parmesan rinds, either—they make a delicious broth and enrich soups. Or, turn them into cheese crisps with a Mad Genius trick.

Treat Yourself to Fromage Fort

Marcus Nilsson

Have leftover cheese nubs from a charcuterie board or macaroni and cheese? Use them to make this fromage fort recipe from Jacques Pépin, which takes 1/2 pound of assorted cheese pieces and blitzes them in a food processor with garlic, dry white wine, black pepper, and salt. The ultra-simple, fast spread is delicious on crackers or melted on toasts. (You can even freeze it.)

Get the Recipe: Fromage Fort

Whip Up a Frittata

John Kernick

If you have any vegetable pieces leftover from a recipe—say, some chopped up zucchini or asparagus—throw them into a frittata for a quick, easy meal. You can do the same with extra herbs, such as in this five-herb frittata from Nancy Silverton, which uses mint, parsley, chives, oregano, and thyme (feel free to skip any or all of those herbs depending on what you have on hand).

More Recipes: Frittata Recipes

Create a Sofrito

jreika/Getty Images

Chop up vegetable bits and scraps super finely for a sofrito, and use it as a base for sauces and braises. This recipe from Silvia Baldini calls for celery stalks, a yellow onion, a carrot, parsley, and olive oil—just the kinds of things you usually have odds and ends of in your kitchen.

Get the Recipe: Sofrito

Rethink Broccoli and Cauliflower

Charissa Fay

When you’re breaking down broccoli for a recipe, save the stems as well as the florets. You can turn them into a crunchy slaw, julienne them to go in a kale salad, or even use them to make a vinaigrette in what Alex Guarnaschelli calls a “stem-to-floret dish” (pictured).

Although not a recipe involving cauliflower stems, chef Michael Solomonov uses the cores (or hearts) of the vegetable to make a pickle, which he serves as a crunchy appetizer.

Make a Smoothie

Sarah Crowder

In an interview with Food & Wine, Margaret Li, co-founder of Mei Mei in Boston, also recommended starting a scrap bag to reduce food waste. However, instead of just saving unwanted vegetable pieces for future stocks, Li also saves half-eaten apples and “nearly overripe bananas” to blend them into smoothies. We have several smoothie recipes you can try, from a simple blueberry, yogurt, milk, and honey combination to our sweet beets smoothie, which not only makes use of beets, but torn kale leaves (stems included!), frozen banana, mixed berries, and dates, too.

Candy Your Citrus Peels (Or Make a Natural Cleaner!)

© LUCY SCHAEFFER

If you’re not using citrus peels for zest, they can also be candied and used in desserts, like these lemon puddings with candied lemon zest, and bittersweet-chocolate bark with candied orange peels. You can use them for drink garnishes, too (looking at you, Negronis). Our Test Kitchen’s guide to reducing food waste also suggests using leftover citrus peels and herb stems to infuse white vinegar for a homemade, natural cleaner. (The peels and herb stems will add a pleasant smell.)

Potato Peels Can Be Snacks, Too

© Lucy Schaeffer

If your recipe calls for peeled potatoes as opposed to skin-on, save the peels. We have a recipe that deep-fries them into crisps—once they’re drained, you add a sprinkle of salt and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then bake them to melt the cheese. For even more of a loaded baked potato vibe, the snack is served with a sour cream and chive dip.

When In Doubt, Green Sauce

Cedric Angeles

A tasty way to use up any wilting fresh herbs or random greens (e.g. carrot tops, radish greens), is to turn them into a green sauce. Think pesto, salsa verde, chimichurri, chermoula, pistou, zhoug (pictured), green chutney—in his F&W Cooks tutorial for roast chicken with cilantro-mint chutney, Nik Sharma notes to keep the stems on both herbs when making the sauce, since they can be used for flavor, too. I also recently used leftover radish greens to make Food & Wine’s radish greens pesto, paired with garlic, parsley, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you don’t have the exact ingredients to make these recipes, don’t worry. You can absolutely still make green sauce, and our senior editor, Margaret Eby, has a helpful guide for riffing with what you have.

Save That Brine

John Kernick

When recipes call for olives, pickles, or other ingredients stored in brine, you might be tempted to toss the extra liquid—don’t. You can use olive brine as a marinade for meats or canned beans, such as in our recipe for olive brine-marinated pork with roasted olives and beans, shown above. (We combine Castelvetrano olive brine with ground sage, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, and salt.) Pickle brine can be great for salad dressings, as well as for brining chicken—chefs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo use it to flavor the meat and keep it moist. It can even enhance potatoes. Michael Solomonov uses leftover brine to pickle sliced fingerling potatoes, which he then fries.

If you caught our recent Mad Genius video featuring super easy tuna escabeche tostadas, you’ll know that Food & Wine Culinary Director-at-Large Justin Chapple likes to save the brine from his can of Mexican-style pickled jalapeños with vegetables and mix some with the tuna, basically using it as a vinaigrette.

Mustard Jar Almost Empty? Shake Up Salad Dressing

© John Kernick

You can use the end of a mayo or mustard jar to shake up some salad dressing. Just add oil and lemon juice or vinegar. Chef Hugh Acheson’s basic vinaigrette recipe, which calls for red wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil, is particularly adaptable, including several riffs like miso vinaigrette and French-style vinaigrette. Bonus: You don't even have to waste water washing up an extra bowl.