A half-drunk bottle of milk. A can of kidney beans that has camped out so long in your cupboard it should probably be paying rent. A selection of cheeses hastily thrown into a communal Tupperware, post–wine night fete. Leftovers are hardly inspirational, but sometimes dinner is about making the most of a bad situation. And when it comes to getting crafty, we look to the pros for inspiration.
These foodies are no strangers to the art of improvised dinners—after all, they’re the ones with the know-how to throw something together on the fly, whereas the rest of us would just order takeout. So in the spirit of creativity and clearing out the fridge, we asked them for their advice. Here are their go-to meals for using up whatever they have on hand.
Aran Goyoaga, author of Cannelle et Vanille
The backstory: “Every spring there is a version of peas and favas in my kitchen. Sometimes with prosciutto and eggs, sometimes on toast like this one. The best way to build a savory toast is to simply cook seasonal vegetables (I use leftover roasted veggies) and pair them with something creamy—burrata, in this case. The crunch of the toast will balance it all.”
Pro tip: For a vegan version, sub in lemony cashew cream for the cheese or even try hummus.
Dress it up: Serve up slices of this healthy snack on a vibrant tablescape to play up the green of the toppings.
Colu Henry, author of Back Pocket Pasta
The backstory: “I’ve started affectionately calling it ‘my cec,’ as it’s been a big hit. I think it’s so loved for its one-pot accessibility, as well as its flexibility—it’s very forgiving and always tastes great. Use broth instead of water, cannellini beans if chickpeas aren’t your thing, and whatever greens you have lurking in your fridge.”
Pro tip: Don’t forget to finish with a drizzle of good olive oil and a generous palmful of grated Pecorino; it’ll kick the whole thing up a notch (or 10).
Dress it up: Hearty stews like this call for a deep dish; keep a ladle on hand, because everyone will want seconds.
Gaby Dalkin, blogger at What’s Gaby Cooking
The backstory: “This recipe came out of a very sleep-deprived brain one day when I got home from the airport and there was almost nothing in my fridge! Just leftover white wine, sun-dried tomatoes, a very sad bunch of kale, and some pasta…somehow that turned into one of my favorite dinners of all time.”
Pro tip: Get crafty with it: Toss in whatever sort of cheese you have and mix up the vegetable selection. Anything that wilts nicely will work.
Dress it up: Jazz up this foolproof pasta dish with some elevated terracotta dinnerware. No one will be able to tell it took only 15 minutes to whip up.
Jill Fergus, blogger at Feed the Swimmers
The backstory: “As I do with many of my go-to dishes, I was rummaging through the crisper for the remaining bits and bobs to avoid waste. I then hit the pantry to pull this together. Parmesan rinds are the secret flavor weapon here—I never toss them. They keep really well stored in the freezer in an airtight container. This dish can handle any vegetable scraps and accommodates canned or dried beans and the stock of your choosing.”
Pro tip: It’s a vegetarian dish, but you can easily make it omnivore-friendly; Fergus recommends crumbling in some sausage.
Dress it up: Dish it out family-style in an emerald green Dutch oven to really drive home the comfort-food feel.
Mimi Thorisson, author of French Country Cooking
The backstory: “This one’s perfect for weekend lunch or a late-night luxury snack. It requires simple ingredients like eggs and milk, and I usually have puff pastry in the freezer; plus, it’s a great way to use up all your leftover cheeses if you don’t have Comté.”
Pro tip: To up your game, serve your pastry with a glass of Bordeaux or champagne.
Dress it up: It might look like something you’d get to go from a bakery, but with porcelain and linen servingware, you can turn this mini meal into a feast.
Natalie Mortimer, blogger at The Modern Proper
The backstory: “It’s winter, the farmers’ markets are still not open, and while comfort food is what my heart desires to ward off the cold weeknights, my body is craving something better. This is where Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower gnocchi comes to the rescue every time. I add in a jar of its bruschetta sauce from my pantry reserve and some chicken sausage from the back of my deli drawer, and dinner’s done!”
Pro tip: Sub in marinara sauce if you don’t have TJ’s bruschetta on hand, and don’t forget to add a snow shower’s worth (technical cooking term) of freshly grated Parmesan. Finish off with a bit of fresh arugula for a peppery bite and some vibrant color.
Dress it up: It’s hard to one-up this supermarket celebrity, but cobalt blue dinnerware makes a valiant effort.
See more recipes we’re making this week:
We’re Calling It: This Trader Joe’s Best-Seller Is the Next Cauliflower Gnocchi
These Spring Salads May Be Detox-Friendly, But They Don’t Taste It
12 Immune-Boosting Soups to Keep That Cold Away