There is a certain phenomenon I've observed in my years of grocery shopping for one: The amount of food you want to buy is always significantly less than the amount of food that's packaged and available. For me, it's always when I decide to make oven fries that I end up standing in the condiment aisle, trying to rationalize buying a "Family Size" bottle of ketchup (oh how it mocks my singledom) when there are none smaller. I dare the ketchup to present me with inspiration for its usefulness beyond my craving for salty crisp potatoes. (Clearly, I'm not one of those ketchup-on-everything types of gals).
In the past, I've gotten around the more-ingredient-than-I-need hurdle by going to shops that sell spices in bulk ("Why yes, I would like to purchase only two teaspoons of dried tarragon, thank you") and by charming the young cheese-monger into cutting off the thinnest possible slice of brittle parmesan from its giant wheel. Still, there are certain food items and meal ingredients that are not so easy to buy in customizable small quantities. See: bottles of ketchup.
My ketchup conundrum is indicative of the larger problem of waste, endemic to all kitchens. There's only so much we can immediately eat before things start separating, funkifying, brown-mushifying, etc. The specter of waste is always nearby, threatening to spoil our efforts at self-sustenance with the taunt, "See! You are only one person! Why bother cooking when there's only so much you can consume!" Waste is what tells us that our kitchen efforts are uneconomical and futile, especially so for the single home cook. Why buy ingredients to cook for ourselves, when so much of them run the risk of either going bad or getting thrown away?
Vegetable scraps are the most common of these lost opportunities. Even though my onion peels and carrot ends get thrown in the compost bin, I still can't help but feel a little excluded from their reincarnated usefulness. I paid in weight for those apple cores, damnit, so shouldn't I get the immediate satisfaction of them nourishing my own belly first, and some garden soil last?
When you repurpose what is otherwise food waste, you begin to feel like many free secret meals suddenly open themselves up to you. One meal's ingredients silently give birth to the ingredients for another, no trip the the grocery store needed.
Making stock out of boiled vegetable scraps, or chicken carcasses, or dried beans is an easy application for magically transforming old food into new. As is breadcrumbs and croutons from stale bread, and pasta frittatas out of your day-old noodley leftovers, to name a few.
One of the more immediately satisfying food reincarnations I've tried recently is greens stem pesto. Who knew that the tough stems from kale, collards, and broccoli could be reborn into something so versatile and delicious? Mixed with white beans, it makes great fodder for a green salad or crostini (fancy word for stuff-on-toast). And when added to some veg stock, plus a few glugs each of olive oil and dry sherry, this pesto makes an excellent braising liquid for your white-colored protein of choice: I browned some slices of tofu in my cast-iron skillet, then added the braising liquid and popped the whole thing into the oven until most of the liquid had reduced, leaving behind a bubbly, olive-oily, vegetal delight. I imagine this would work really well with chicken or fish (sustainably raised, natch) as well.
GREENS STEM PESTO (Inspired by Tamar Adler's recipe)
Once you've collected the stems from a couple of bunches of kale, collard greens, broccoli or cauliflower, chop these up into small pieces. There should be about 4-6 cups worth. Throw them into a pot with half as much water, let it come up to a boil and then let it simmer for half an hour or so until everything is nice and mushy. Drain whatever water is left in the pot (or save it for vegetable stock!), and then add the stems to a food processor or blender with at least 2 cloves of garlic, a large pinch of salt, a few generous glugs of olive oil, a small handful of toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds), and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand (I used chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano). Some parmesan cheese would be good in this too, however I opted for adding extra salt instead. Blend/process it all together until it resembles a pesto. If it's too thick or chunky, mix in some additional liquid such as more olive oil, veg stock, water, or even a little lemon juice. This is also more of a highly-forgiving pesto technique rather than a recipe, so feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you go along.