Editors' Picks: Our 10 Favorite Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste By Cooking

Spaghettini with Warm Bacon Mushroom Vinaigrette
Photo: © Con Poulos

Reducing your food waste is just one of the many ways you can make your kitchen a little more environmentally friendly. For Earth Day this year, we asked our editors about their favorite no-waste cooking tips, and the recipes they use to turn food you may typically discard—whether it's stale bread, leftover greens, or overripe fruit—into something new and exciting. There's the classic banana bread route, of course, and Features Editor Nina Friend loves taking overripe bananas and turning them up to 10 in Brown Butter Banana Bread. You can also take a cue from our Associate Editorial Director of Food, Chandra Ram, and use leftover rendered bacon fat in a simple but flavor-packed pasta dish. Whether you're in the mood for a drink, an appetizer, or a warming bowl of soup, these recipes will help you make the most of what you have on hand, to delicious results. Read on for the full spread.

01 of 10

Reserve That Bacon Fat!

Spaghettini with Warm Bacon Mushroom Vinaigrette
© Con Poulos

"If you look in my fridge, on the middle shelf next to the bottle of Japanese plum vinegar and jars of preserved lemons, you'll find a bright red silicone container with a pig face-shaped lid. It's the bacon bin my friend Kim bought me for my birthday a few years ago, and the secret hero of my kitchen.

I started saving bacon fat while working as a cook at a hotel in Maine. (Usually in an old jar; the bacon bin is a real upgrade.) My chef there taught me how to give a second life to bacon—and its rendered fat—leftover from breakfast by using the fat to sweat the onions and celery for clam chowder and crumbling up the bacon to sprinkle on top of each bowl as a garnish. These days, I scoop out a little bacon fat to use when sautéing onions for soup or a stew, or to grease my cast-iron pan before making cornbread. And there's nothing better in the summer than fresh corn from the farmers' market gently sautéed in bacon fat until barely cooked and heated through. In colder months, I turn to chef Tim Cushman's Spaghettini with Warm Bacon-Mushroom Vinaigrette, in which you sauté mushrooms, onions, and garlic in rendered bacon fat, and then hit the mixture with a little balsamic vinegar for a bright dose of acidity. Sometimes I throw a handful of chopped kale into the pan as well, letting the leaves wilt as I toss everything together. The resulting dish of noodles glistening with bacon fat and coated with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is simple and comes together in minutes, but the bacon fat gives it rich carbonara vibes. It's just the thing to eat on a night when you want to reduce your kitchen waste while eating something simple but packed with smoky, fatty flavor." –Chandra Ram, Associate Editorial Director, Food

02 of 10

Turn Greens into Green Butter

Radish Tartines with Green Butter
Photo by Christopher Testani / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

"As I mentioned in our Editors' Picks spring recipe collection, these Radish Tartines with Green Butter are a great way to repurpose radish and turnip greens instead of throwing them out. In the past, I've taken leftover greens and herbs and gone the green sauce route—turning nearly wilted cilantro into a drizzling sauce for scrambled eggs, and blitzing up radish greens in the food processor to make radish green pesto. But I've never tried green butter before, and I think it's such a smart option. You simply blend a firmly packed cup of reserved greens with unsalted butter, lemon zest, flaky sea salt, black pepper, and grated garlic in a food processor. Season it with more salt and pepper to taste and voilà! You've got green butter. To make the tartines, simply spread the butter on toasted bread, top it with very thinly sliced radishes and turnips, and finish 'em off with salt and crushed red pepper." –Bridget Hallinan, Associate Food Editor

03 of 10

Overripe Bananas = Banana Bread

Brown Butter Banana Bread
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Prissy Lee

"One of the cardinal rules of the kitchen? Never throw away bananas, even if they're brown and mushy. One of my favorite ways to put overripe bananas to use is by mashing them up into banana bread. Lena Sareini's Brown-Butter Banana Bread is unforgettable, especially when it's topped with her Banana-Caramel Sauce. As for what to do with the leftover heavy whipping cream? Well, whip it up! Top the caramel-laden banana bread with freshly-whipped cream, and save the rest in the refrigerator for a decadent afternoon snack, best eaten with berries." –Nina Friend, Features Editor

04 of 10

…Or Make a Different Quick Bread!

John Kernick

"This combination of carrots, zucchini, and shredded coconut is a great way to both clean out your crowded crisper drawer and use up a commonly over-bought baking ingredient. But it's also a handy reminder that there are a bevy of leftover veggies or even slightly mushy fruits that can find a good home in a loaf of moist and sweet quick bread—which, let's face it, we all know is basically cake! And if your summer garden is giving you a bumper crop, you can even pre-shred or chop up zucchini and freeze it for warm treats in colder months." –Adam Campbell-Schmitt, Senior Editor, News and Trending

05 of 10

Save Your Seafood Shells for Stock—and Then Make Bisque

Lobster Bisque
Victor Protasio

"Seafood shells such as lobster, crab, or shrimp are packed with flavor and perfect for a no-effort, no-waste seafood stock. I build up a collection of shells in my freezer, then slowly simmer them with mirepoix and herbs to coax out their sweet and briny essence. It makes the best base for gumbo, bisque, and paella. You'll never go back to boxed stock!" –Paige Grandjean, Associate Food Editor

06 of 10

Treat Yourself to Salsa

Pomegranate-Pistachio Salsa
Photo by Greg Dupree / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

"Despite my best efforts to only buy what I know I'm going to cook, at some point during the month I inevitably find myself staring down a bunch of random vegetables and fruits that need to be used up. My favorite way to do so is to make an 'anything goes' salsa, using chef Wes Avila's guidelines to balance whatever wildcard ingredient like fennel or broccoli I might have on hand with the core salsa elements of acid, chiles, and tomatoes." –Karen Shimizu, Executive Editor

Avila's guidelines are linked above; try his recipe for Pomegranate Salsa with Pistachios, pictured.

07 of 10

Let Stale Bread Shine as Croutons

Aged Gouda Fondue with Caraway Croutons
© Ryan Robert Miller

"A loaf of bread almost always goes stale before I can eat the entire thing. Between that and avoiding the heels of a bread loaf when making sandwiches, I'm sure I've thrown out lots of bread in my lifetime. But in recent months, I've been working to minimize my bread waste by transforming stale slices and heels into croutons! Slightly dried out bread is ideal for homemade croutons, so it's a win-win scenario. And if you happen to be craving some fondue to go with those crunchy bread bits, why not toss in any bits of cheese you need to use up?" –Merlyn Miller, Social Media Editor

08 of 10

Don't Sleep on Chicken Scraps

Chicken Soup with Rosemary Matzo Balls
© Quentin Bacon

"The first white tablecloth restaurant I ever went to was a French-Jewish bistro somewhere in the greater Cincinnati area, and to this day, you can't tell me that matzo ball soup isn't the height of haute dining. (Yeah, I know it's comfort food for a bazillion people around the world, but I've got a context thing, man.) The fact that this recipe comes from Blue Hill's Dan Barber (2002 F&W Best New Chef) does little to dispel that. But as per Barber's standard anti-food-waste mission, the recipe relies heavily on the often-chucked parts of chickens—backs, necks, feet—to maximize flavor while using every last scrap. The recipe yields eight quarts of broth, so there's plenty to portion and freeze for the next time you feel like getting schmantzy with your soup." –Kat Kinsman, Senior Editor

09 of 10

Give Your Leftover Cheese New Life—With Wine

Fromage Fort
© Marcus Nilsson

"Fromage fort is a supremely elegant French way of saying 'random cheese spread.' And that's exactly what it is—a fantastic way to use up all the bits and pieces of cheese at the bottom of your cheese drawer, especially after a party or blowout dinner. The great Jacques Pépin gave us his recipe for Fromage Fort, which you can and should adjust depending on what's in your fridge. There aren't a lot of rules here, but it's best if you use a mix of hard and soft cheeses. That said, if you only have hard cheese on hand, just add a little butter, a scoop of ricotta or yogurt, and/or a little more wine or cream so that it comes together into a spread. Too much blue cheese will overpower the rest of the mix, but otherwise, go with what you've got on hand. Toast some bread or pull out some crackers to go with it, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy this no-waste snack." –C.R.

10 of 10

Transform Citrus Zest into Oleo Saccharum for Drinks

Bourbon Tea Julep
Kelly Marshall

"When juicing lemons for a recipe, or when slicing up oranges for my kids' lunches, I'll use a vegetable peeler to capture big swaths of the rind/peel/zest to steep in sugar to make oleo saccharum for cocktails and mocktails." –K.S.

Try the Oleo Saccharum, linked above, in this pictured recipe for a Bourbon-Tea Julep.

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