We’ve all been there before. You went to the grocery store and stocked up on fresh produce but time got away from you (and you opted for scrambled eggs for dinner one time too many), and now you have a mountain of not-so-fresh produce sitting at the bottom of your fridge.
This is one of the kitchen situations I dread most. The idea of food wastage makes me deeply uncomfortable, so I do my absolute best to avoid it where I can. Instead of sighing as you toss your slightly soggy zucchinis into the compost, why not try and turn these past-their-prime pieces into something new?
The best move here is to fashion those guys into a soup. Soup doesn’t care if your veggies are a little softer than they should be. It just cares about how they taste.
And if you’re not the biggest soup fan, you can always just fry your veggies. Nearly everything tastes good when it’s fried. Sure, it’s not as healthy as you originally hoped, but you’re preventing food waste, which basically makes you a hero or something.
Omelettes and roasting are also good options. Or dice/mince it relatively finely and mix it in with some mince to add some vitamins and minerals to a homemade sausage roll. Cooking it in a nice pasta sauce is also yummy.
Did you think you’d eat more strawberries than you actually could? It’s time to make some jam, or a smoothie, or an ice cream sauce, or ice cream, depending on your level of confidence. The same goes for any sweet fruit. The answer to “can it go in a blender?” is usually “yes”.
But it’s important that you know when there’s no saving the patient. A bit bruised and squishy is fine. Floppy is acceptable as long as it still tastes OK. But if you can see mould, the whole thing is dead. Fruit and veg is soft, so mould spores spread fast and without mercy. It’s not like a hard cheese where you can cut off a big chunk and call it fine. Like bread, fruit and veg are a lost cause when it comes to mould.
To give you a little inspiration, here is the recipe for my favourite soup. Almost every ingredient can be substituted depending on what you’ve got on hand. The best thing about soup is that it’s basically a wet salad and enough garlic and stock can cover all manner of sins.
Rustic farmhouse soup recipe
(Because if you call it rustic and put the word “farm” in there, you can be as rough and lazy as you like and make it seem deliberate.)
- Roughly chop an onion and let it simmer in a big pot with some extra virgin olive oil (enough to make all the onions wet, with a little extra) for at least 15 minutes. Add a little garlic around 10mins in. (It’s ok if the garlic burns a little, it’ll add extra flavour and you can call it “charred garlic” like they do on MasterChef.)
- Roughly chop some potatoes. You can par-cook them in a microwave-safe container with a little water in the microwave on 4:44 if you’re in a rush, or just put them aside until we get to step 3 (which will taste better).
- Put 400-500ml of boiling water per serving of soup you want to make into the pot, and add the appropriate amount of dried stock mix. I always keep a canister of Vegetta vegetable stock mix in the cupboard, and it’s possibly the most useful and versatile pantry staple. I highly recommend it.
- Then add in more garlic than you think you need, either minced from a jar or fresh (yes, this is extra garlic), as well as whatever other herbs and spices you want. I usually do some chilli flakes, pepper, oregano and basil, but this is all entirely up to what you like and what you’ve got.
- Put in the potatoes. If you’re only cooking the potatoes now, leave the whole thing simmering with some occasional gentle stirring for about 25 minutes, otherwise move straight to step 6.
- Add other harder vegetables roughly chopped. This is when you add your carrots, celery, par-cooked sweet potatoes, pumpkin, etc. Then leave it (stirring occasionally) for about 10mins. Taste the soup and adjust the balance of herbs and spices. You can also add some barley in at this point if you feel like it.
- Add the softer vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn kernels, tomatoes or whatever else you’ve got. Leave for 5mins.
- Check on each kind of vegetable to make sure it’s cooked the way you like it. Then serve.
When I serve, I like to add some frozen peas straight into the bowl. This is for a few reasons:
- Just defrosted peas are wonderful.
- Overcooked peas are the literal worst.
- It helps cool down the large bowl of soup enough that you can eat it almost immediately without making it cold. Otherwise, you’re in ‘burn your tongue’ territory for at least 10mins. But it’s up to you.
And there you have it. It sounds like a lot of steps, but really it’s just “chop vegetables, put in pot, make wet, season”. There are very few ways to screw it up, yet it is utterly delicious and will use up any forgotten vegetables.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.