Help Save Earth: Make Ugly Vegetable Pasta

Have ugly veggies? Instead of tossing them out, make them the stars of the show in this quick and easy pasta—plus help save the planet in honor of Earth Day (and every day).
Vegetable Pasta

Adobe|Anna Shepulova

Do you have some “ugly” veggies on hand? Don’t throw them away just because they have a few bumps or bruises. Or, if you see a bin at the grocery store or farmers market that features discounted produce because it’s not “pretty perfect,” pick some up. You can cut around any imperfections and use the portions that are still good to whip up some quick and easy Ugly Vegetable Pasta. And, in the process you can help save money and the planet!

In honor of Earth Day April 22, keep in mind how food waste can not only be a waste of money, but can also have an impact on the planet. Forty percent of all food in America is wasted. And we—consumers—are the largest source of it. More than grocery stores and restaurants combined, according to Save the Food, a campaign of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1970. A four-person family could lose at least $1,500 a year on wasted food. Nationally it translates to billions of dollars lost, which includes the cost of food wasted on the consumer level, retail, wasted water, energy, fertilizers, cropland, and production costs. Plus, food is the single largest contributor to U.S. landfills today. But, we can do something about it with our planning, shopping, and creative recipes that use our overripe fruit, “ugly” veggies, and more.


Remember a big part of avoiding food waste is planning. Save the Food features tips and interactive tools to help you start planning smarter and saving food right now.

The Guest-Imator: An interactive dinner party calculator that helps you estimate how much food you need to keep your guests happy and healthy.

Meal Prep Mate: A digital tool to help you create your shopping list and plan your meals before now and the next grocery run—all without wasting a drop.

Interactive Storage Guide: Save the Food’s encyclopedia on food storage. Learn how to store it best, how long it should stay there, and even what to do if it’s a little past prime.

Alexa: The world’s first voice-activated, food-saving assistant. Ask about everything from better food storage to what you can do with wilted celery.

Save the Food also has more tips and more recipes to check out on its site. Here, make your ugly veggies the stars of the show. Brown the veggies, cook some pasta, add some homemade spicy garlic oil, and enjoy your work of art in this recipe by Joel Gamoran, Sur La Table National Chef and Host of “Scraps.” This recipe uses eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, but you could always improvise with other veggies you have on hand, too—whatever will help save your budget and the planet.

Ugly Vegetable Pasta

Makes 4 servings | Recipe by chef Joel Gamoran

½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for finishing
1 small eggplant, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 2-inch pieces
Salt, to taste
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½-1 fresh chili, thinly sliced (depending on how spicy you like it!)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
½ pound (8 ounces) short-cut pasta
1 handful tender herbs, such as basil, mint and/or parsley, tender stems minced, leaves torn or left whole
½ cup coarsely grated ricotta salata (or pecorino, feta, or Parmesan)
Zest of 1 lemon

  1. Brown the vegetables: Heat half the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add eggplant and zucchini and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season well with salt.
  2. Add garlic and chili and remaining oil and cook until fragrant, another couple minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes and cook until they start to release their liquid when pressed with the back of a spoon, about 5 more minutes.
  4. Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water 2 minutes less than package instructions, about 7 minutes. You still want it to have a bite.
  5. Finish pasta: Drain pasta, saving about ½ cup cooking water. Add pasta to skillet, adding pasta water a few tablespoons at at time and tossing to coat. Garnish with herbs, cheese, lemon zest, and drizzle of olive oil.

Note: Watch chef Joel Gamoran make this recipe.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.