Reduce waste and eat well while using what’s already in your fridge and freezer

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By Becky Krystal

We all do it – pick a recipe, then shop for all the ingredients without first looking to see what’s hanging around the house. The result? Bits and bobs of extra food without a designated purpose. And that can lead to food waste.

Eating down the refrigerator and freezer is a worthy goal for the sake of the environment and your wallet, and reduces shopping trips during a time when many of us are trying to go to the store less frequently.

The first step is to get a handle on what you have. If you’re really on top of things, go ahead and make a list on a whiteboard on the fridge or an online spreadsheet. Even if compiling an inventory is too much to do at the moment, take a few minutes to dig around before you start making recipe or shopping plans. Pay particular attention to ingredients that are reaching the end of their storage life.

Palak Patel, chef at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, recommends using a first-in, first-out system so older items get used first.

Based on what you uncover, you can, of course, search for dishes that use those ingredients.

Soup

This is one of the easiest ways to embrace the “throw it all in” mentality. Empty out the produce bin, or grab leftover roasted vegetables.

Dig out the bags of frozen vegetables with just a little bit left. That carton with a cup or two of broth remaining? A little wine? A partially used can of tomatoes?

Start building your broth, supplementing with water as needed and amping up the flavour with umami boosters such as tomato paste or dried mushrooms. Sauté whatever aromatics (onions, garlic, leeks) you have, add chopped vegetables and your liquid.

Simmer until done (precooked vegetables can go in towards the end just to warm through). Leftover cooked meat also can get thrown in late in the process or be used as a garnish. Pasta odds and ends or extra canned beans can contribute heft.

Pasta

Pasta With Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Rosemary and Chocolate. Photo for The Washington Post by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

A one-pot pasta is an ideal vehicle for incorporating random quantities of vegetables and meats. The strategy is a bit like soup. Start with an aromatic base, whether that’s alliums (onions, garlic etc) cooked in olive oil, or rendered fat from something like bacon or pancetta.

Add pasta, just enough water to cover, and anything else that you want to warm or cook through. Heartier meats and firm vegetables are fine to hang out as the pasta cooks, whereas more delicate greens or seafood should be stirred in at the very end.

Similarly, think about pasta salad. Like the one-pot pasta, it takes well to just about anything you want in there, though try to avoid the kitchen-sink mentality. See what needs to be used and focus on a few ingredients so they can shine when paired with a zesty vinaigrette.

Even frozen vegetables will work after roasting. Check your fridge for all those partially used jars of olives, pepperoncini, capers and anchovies. They make an excellent finishing touch, along with the end of that block of cheese.

Roasting

Colourful Roasted Vegetables. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle

For minimum effort, take comfort in the fact that so many types of foods can simply be thrown on a sheet pan and roasted. A tray of vegetables makes a no-fuss side, as with colourful roasted vegetables, or use them to top a grain bowl or pasta.

I tend to like my vegetables roasted at 200 degrees at a minimum, though for heartier options that benefit from crispy edges (broccoli, cauliflower), I will go up to 220 or 230 degrees.

Keep in mind that different vegetables may cook at different rates, so if you are mixing multiple kinds, keep them on separate sheets or divided on the same sheet.

You can also cut longer-cooking vegetables into smaller pieces, so they finish more in line with quicker-cooking ones.



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