The Smartest, Tastiest Way to Use Up Your Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
The dog days of summer, for me, are not so much a time for capital "R" Recipes. The heat makes my brain all sorts of poached, and as much as I’m excited about the bounty of fruits and vegetables that I was missing all winter, I’m not terribly inclined to do anything radical or complicated with them. I like to say that it’s because I’m just keeping things simple and letting their true perfect fresh nature shine. But the truth, between you and me, is that I’m lazy by nature and doubly so when there is a chance of sweating. So long, complicated dishes that require precise measuring and multiple pots and bowls just paralyze me. In the warm months I become a ratio girl. One part of this to two parts of that and dinner on the table is my summer speed.
That doesn’t mean I don’t cook. Like the rest of you, I’m overbuying at the markets, filling my fridge and counters with berries and stone fruits and melons so ripe their scent fills the kitchen. Gardening pals drop off the excesses of their own riches, there are armloads of herbs and tomatoes and peppers, and more zucchini than one can shake a stick at. Summer is a time of peeling and slicing and chopping, if not so much measuring, which leaves one with piles of scraps to manage.
I myself, in possession of a notorious and infamous black thumb, do not garden, ergo I do not compost. This makes these exuberant mounds of bits and pieces feel wasteful—until I had a lightbulb moment and decided to make scrap syrups.
Syrups are everywhere these days. The contemporary cocktail movement has every local bar making fifteen flavors of custom syrups to enhance your sundowner, and don’t even get me started on the craft coffee people. But it got me thinking. Simple syrup is called simple for a reason and falls solidly into my zen ratio mental space. What if I took the scraps and cooked them in simple syrup to make my own flavored sweeteners?
Magic, friends, that is what happens.
The peach peelings from last night’s cobbler become a golden syrup that makes your iced tea a sweet peach tea with the flick of a spoon or turns up the dial on your morning vanilla yogurt. The stems and less-than-perfect leaves of basil from that impromptu Caprese lunch salad are now a basil syrup that is a surprising and delicious light dressing for tomorrow’s brunch fruit salad. The spiky skin and fibrous core of pineapple, the peels and seeds of mangoes, herbs that have wilted, all perfect candidates. Plums that have gone all sad and smooshy and past their out-of-hand eating prime make a syrup that is a genius soak for an almond cake.
Mix and match to your heart’s content, leftover cantaloupe and tarragon are pals, as are tomato and mint. Peppers make for spicy syrups that are amazing drizzled over cheeses. Add that vanilla pod that you scraped out when you made ice cream, or experiment with spices. The syrups last a month or so in the fridge due to the high sugar content, and if you are a canning and preserving sort of person, you can have them all year long. Use them to make fancy custom sodas by stirring in sparkling water, and of course, your cocktail game will improve dramatically.
Scrap syrups are the nose-to-tail cooking of fruits, veggies, and herbs, and as delicious as they are virtuous.
Scrap Syrups: A Ratio, Not a Recipe
One part water to one part sugar to one part scraps.
Pile your desired peelings, off-cuts, and bruised or overripe chunks into a large measuring cup, press down to remove as much air as possible, and take note of approximate amount. Use that to determine the water and sugar part of the ratio. Put all in an appropriately sized saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Turn heat off and let cool at room temp for at least an hour. Strain into containers and discard scraps. Keeps in the fridge for a month.