What to CookVegetable

Clever Uses for All Your Spring Food Scraps

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Come on, Let's Get Scrappy. All you need is a little inspiration and...stuff you already have!

Spring has sprung, your market is overflowing with the first produce of the season—delicate greens, fragrant herbs, freshly foraged mushrooms—and you’ve come home with all of it. (We know, we know, some of you are still looking at snow. We’re thinking positive!)

So you’re ready to use those tender asparagus tips, colorful radish roots, and sweet strawberries—but what to do with those tough asparagus ends, bitter radish greens, and tiny strawberry hulls? We’ve got ideas for all of those scraps and more. You can head back to the market, feeling good that you didn’t let a single ounce of spring’s fleeting treasures go to waste.

A Handy Chart for How Long Fresh Produce Will Last
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A Handy Chart for How Long Fresh Produce Will Last

Artichoke leaves

Artichoke hearts are an especially delicious treat, but trimming them can produce a significant pile of scraps. Luckily those bracts (what we think of as leaves) can be eaten, too: Steam or blanch them and enjoy with melted butter or aioli—or put them to use in a tasty twist on nachos.

Roasted Artichoke Leaf Appetizer with Feta and Black Olives (& Cheater's Aioli)
Roasted Artichoke Leaf Appetizer with Feta and Black Olives (& Cheater's Aioli)

Asparagus ends

Young asparagus doesn’t need to be trimmed at all; its ends are just as tasty as the rest of the stalk. But that changes as the season goes on and asparagus gets bigger. If you don’t want to lose the entire end, sometimes peeling away some of the most fibrous part is enough to reduce any unpleasant stringiness, and those trimmings can live their best lives fried and salted (good luck trying to share). If you do slice or snap off the woody ends, the nubs have plenty of flavor left to give to soup or pesto.

Fried Asparagus Trimmings
Fried Asparagus Trimmings
Annie Wayte's Chilled Asparagus and Almond Soup

Annie Wayte's Chilled Asparagus and Almond Soup by Genius Recipes

Creamy Raw Asparagus Pesto

Creamy Raw Asparagus Pesto by hardlikearmour

Herb stems

Bundles of fresh herbs are a cheery sign of spring, but once you get through all the leaves on those herbal bouquets, you’re left with a pile of stems…that can be put to good use! Stems from soft herbs (like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, and chervil) are easy to work with: Just chop them very finely and use as you would the leaves, or turn them into jam. You can make herb-infused vinegars out of the stems from woody herbs, like thyme or rosemary; I tend to stick to one herb at a time, but feel free to go crazy and DIY your own blend. Woody herb stems can also be used to flavor stock or soup, or even serve as clever skewers.

Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon

Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam with Olives and Lemon by Genius Recipes

Herbed Beef Skewers with Horseradish Cream

Herbed Beef Skewers with Horseradish Cream by Oui, Chef

Wilty lettuce

It’s hard not to get giddy about all of the delicate greens at the market right now. Even stored correctly, though, sometimes your lettuces can start to lose their luster. The solution: Braise ‘em, sauté ‘em, pickle ‘em, or make a batch of lettuce jam. (Common sense reminder: Limp, lightly bruised leaves are a-OK to use; leaves melting into a pile of their own slime belong in the compost bin.)

Lettuce Jam

Lettuce Jam by Jenn Louis

Shalotta, Mom's Pickled Lettuce Condiment

Shalotta, Mom's Pickled Lettuce Condiment by Kukla

Glazed Carrots with Braised Bibb Lettuce

Glazed Carrots with Braised Bibb Lettuce by thirschfeld

Killed Lettuce

Killed Lettuce by Ali Slagle

Mushroom stems

A lot of recipes call for mushrooms with softer stems, like cremini and portobellos, to be removed, but you can also just chop them up and use them along with the caps in whatever dish you’re making. If that idea doesn’t make sense for what you’re cooking, save the stems for stuffed mushrooms, noodles, vegetable paté, or compound butter. Mushrooms with firmer stems, like shiitakes, can be finely chopped and cooked if they’re very fresh, but if they’re older and the stems feel firm to the touch, your best bet is to add them to a pot of stock or a batch of gravy for a flavor boost.

Velvety Mushroom Soup

Velvety Mushroom Soup by lastnightsdinner

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup by MrsWheelbarrow

Pods from shelling peas & beans

Shelled peas and beans make you work for the tender treasures within, but their fresh pods needn’t be tossed. In some cases, pods can be eaten after cooking, as with these Genius grilled favas. Unlock the flavor of more mature, tougher pods by simmering them to make stock—whether mixed in with other vegetables or all on their own for a single-flavored broth, as you would with corn cobs. Then use that stock in risotto or soups.

How to Make Vegetable Stock Without a Recipe
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How to Make Vegetable Stock Without a Recipe

Radish (& beet, or turnip) tops

Like arugula or watercress, raw radish tops can add a pleasant bite in salads, whether green, grain, potato, or egg. Blended into an aioli, their slight bitterness is the perfect foil to the dip’s richness. They can also be sauteed and eaten as a side dish, added to soups. and combined with other types of greens for veggie burgers, “meat” balls, and more. Got early season beets or turnips? Their greens can be put to use in the same ways.

Radish Top Aioli
Radish Top Aioli
Radish Top Soup and Slow-Roasted Radish Roots with Fennel Seeds

Radish Top Soup and Slow-Roasted Radish Roots with Fennel... by Viviane Bauquet Farre

Spring Radishes Salad in a Sour Cream and Yogurt Sauce

Spring Radishes Salad in a Sour Cream and Yogurt Sauce by Kukla

Strawberry tops

These are one of the easiest scraps to discard without much thought, but that would be a waste. If you’re quickly trimming and hulling a lot of berries, you’ll likely have a pile of tops with lingering bits of ripe fruit attached. Use those to infuse a pitcher of water with sweet strawberry flavor. Or, if you’re exacting about your strawberry top removal, the greens can find a home in pesto.

How to Use Your Strawberry Tops

How to Use Your Strawberry Tops by Marian Bull

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Strawberry Top Pesto

Strawberry Top Pesto by Clark Barlowe

We also asked you what types of produce and other ingredients you have trouble using up, and based on your answers, we shared a few ideas for putting hard-to-use-up items to good use:

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Spring, Cooking with Scraps