It’s no secret that food waste abounds in today’s society. It can be hard to know what to do to reduce household food waste, but Italians have been doing it, deliciously, for centuries. There are many recipes that make use of ingredients that might otherwise be considered “waste.” Stale bread, off-cuts of meat, and vegetable scraps are all re-used in brilliant ways to create wholesome, economical dishes.
One of the easiest ways to use “waste” ingredients is in soups and stocks. Bones, less desirable cuts of meat, vegetable scraps, and even stale bread can be used to make delicious soups and stocks. You can even use leftovers from a meal to create a soup—the bones saved from a roast chicken can be used along with some odds and ends from vegetables, like onions, celery leaves, and carrots, to make a healthy and light broth. Tuscans make a hearty soup called ribollita with tomatoes, vegetables, and stale bread. Ribollita is an especially comforting dish for cold winter months. Another ingredient that is often wasted are cheese rinds. The hard rinds from parmigiano and pecorino make a distinctive, savory addition to any soup.
Once bread becomes hard, many people throw it out, but stale bread can be used in many ways. Lasagna di pane, or bread lasagna, is an excellent way to make use of stale bread. To make bread lasagna, simply layer stale bread with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and grated cheese and bake until heated through. It’s easy, economical, and delicious. Breadcrumbs are another obvious way to make use of stale bread, simply process in a food processor until they reach the desired consistency. Stale bread can also be reconstituted in water or milk and used to bind polpette of various types, like meatballs or vegetable fritters.
Leftover rice can also be used to make a variety of dishes, including rice balls. Arborio rice is preferable for making rice balls, but any type of cooked rice will do. Simply add grated cheese to heated rice until you like the flavor and the rice holds together, then stuff with whatever you prefer—meat sauce, pieces of cheese, or cooked vegetables. Dip in beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, then fry. Leftover rice makes great supplì, a typically Roman rice ball.
Leftover pasta might be a rarity, but when it’s on hand it makes great frittate! You can mix leftover pasta enough beaten eggs and grated cheese to bind it together, then cook in a pan like you would any frittata. The result is a delicious dish that is great to pack for school lunches, or for a quick dinner. A frittatina di bucatini is another way to use up leftover pasta, it’s like a pasta rice ball—what could be better?
If you’re feeling really ambitious, learning how to make salumi and sausage is a great way to use pieces of meat that might otherwise be wasted. Tails, skin, and pieces of fat can all be used to make different kinds of salumi and sausages, like cotechino, coppa di testa, corallina, or ‘nduja.
The best way to combat food waste in our own kitchens is creativity! Shopping wisely, getting creative with food scraps, trying out tried and true recipes, or creating your own unique dishes will go a long way towards reducing food waste and saving money.
What’s your go-to solution to fight food waste in your kitchen?
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.