Red Sauce from Red Stuff is Sandy Oliver's method of cleaning out the fridge. Credit: Sandy Oliver

Nobody wants to waste food. Still we all do, inadvertently, most of the time.

It’s a pocketbook issue. We buy groceries with every intention of using it all up, but bits and dabs of leftovers in storage containers lurk in the back corners of fridges where they are forgotten.

Out they go.

A couple unused ribs of celery, half an onion. A recipe calls for a quarter cup of chopped green pepper, and the rest of the pepper languishes unnoticed until it’s unusable.

If you have a garden, as I do, the deluge of vegetables can get to be overwhelming, and truth be told, some of the bounty gets plowed back into the compost pile despite our best canning, freezing, drying, pickling and eating habits. Some of my waste is devoured by chickens or rots into compost, recycled by worms. Still, all the effort I spend growing it is wasted.

When I cleaned out the fridge recently, I discovered a few containers of still perfectly good food, none of them sufficient themselves for a meal, but combined worked very well. It was all what I call red stuff. Half a quart jar of homemade tomato sauce plus a half cup of commercial marinara, a few slices of fresh tomato, a few tablespoons of salsa fresca, a partly used tube of tomato paste. None of it had spoiled yet, so I chopped up a small onion and a rib of celery, and sauteed them in olive oil in a saucepan, then dumped all the red stuff in together and simmered it for a while, tasted it, then seasoned with garlic, oregano and basil. It made about three cups of really tasty red sauce.

Depending on your random collection of red stuff, you may or may not want to combine it willy-nilly. If I had a small piece of red or green pepper, I would have added that to the sauteed onion and celery. The herbs and garlic I used helped quite a bit to pull all the different tomato products together. A bit of cooked or uncooked ground beef or ground turkey, or a dab of sausage would be a good addition.

A visiting friend used the sauce to make a zucchini parmesan, just like eggplant only with slices of big zucchini. It would have been really difficult to discern the individual components of that sauce, even if we had used it on pasta.

Perhaps you have a few artful dodges to alleviate your waste problem such as favorite recipes that use up all kinds of bits and pieces. Share them in the comments section below.

P.S. Looking for … Tina in Bristol has no doubt spotted all the brilliant, fat, orangey red rosehips ripening on rosa rugosa bushes all along the coast. She wrote, “Do you have a good recipe for rosehip jam/jelly? I did find a few online … even Farmer’s Almanac had recipes.” But, of course, the question is which ones are any good? Do you make rosehip jam or jelly? Share your recipes in the comments below.

Red Sauce from Red Stuff

Yield varies

Olive oil

1 small to medium onion, chopped

1 rib of celery chopped

Red or green pepper, chopped, optional

Random amounts of red stuff: tomato sauce, tomato paste, cooked and uncooked tomatoes, salsa, caponata, chili sauce, a little ketchup, etc.

Random bits of ground turkey, beef, or sausage, cooked or uncooked, optional

Oregano, basil and garlic to taste

Water or broth, if needed

Credit: Sandy Oliver

1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, celery and optional peppers, and cook for five minutes or until tender.

2. Add your collection of red stuff and optional meat, and stew it all together for a half-hour, seasoning with the oregano, basil and garlic to taste.

3. Add water or broth if needed to get the consistency you desire. Serve.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...