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Put wilted herbs to work in this saucy pasta recipe

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

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According to a recent survey, up to a third of the population of Washington, the capital of the richest country in the world, struggles to access enough food. Though it’s not precisely related, this fact reminds me that food waste still looms large across the United States. In 2010, the USDA calculated that at least 31 percent of food sold at restaurants and grocery stores went to waste; it now puts that estimate around 40 percent. Potential solutions exist at the policy level, but I like the argument that author Tamar Adler recently made in an opinion piece for The Post.

“Americans need to collectively replace a preoccupation with ‘food waste’ — which does not sound edible, never mind delicious — with a passion for food use,” Adler wrote. “We need to change our approach from a moralistic one to a practical human one that treats edible ingredients as what they are: food. Food becomes ‘waste’ subjectively, and in that subjective becoming lies a world of culinary possibility.”

For me, that perspective shift starts in the kitchen, probably in front of the fridge, often while peering into my crisper drawer at the bunches of herbs I bought and am not using quickly enough. When I’m on my A-game, I trim their stems and prop them up in a glass of water, which extends their life. When I’m not, I throw them, wilted leaves and all, into the freezer.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s one that reliably allows me to put old herbs — plus the stems from radishes or carrots or beets — to use in soups and stews like this one. I spotted this recipe for Tiny Pasta With Tender Herbs and Chickpeas, which was created by the chef Sohla El-Waylly, while looking through Food52’s “Simply Genius” by Kristen Miglore. It uses a bountiful six cups of chopped herbs and stems! That was a big reason El-Waylly’s recipe was highlighted in the book.

“The thing that drew me to this recipe is I love the idea of using up wilting herbs and greens — even though I try to treat them well so they last as long as possible — I love the idea of cooking them, whatever combination of them that you happen to have,” Miglore told me by phone. “Beet tops, radish tops, basil, I always think, I am definitely going to use that … but then I don’t use them in time.”

Maybe you, too, have gazed upon a bunch of yellowed, wilted dill or parsley — a bundle you had every intention of using but that somehow started to decompose while you weren’t looking? Today’s money-saving tip puts those tired herbs and greens to work in a soupy stew that’s full of grassy, green spring flavor. (It works just as well with frozen herbs and greens, so this is also a reminder to make use of your freezer!)

This recipe starts with a neat little trick: Soak tiny dried pasta, such as ditalini, in broth or water while you begin preparing the soup’s base. This way, when you add the pasta and broth to the stew, it will take half as much time to cook. Another thing I love about this recipe is the garlic and anchovy butter that you add all of the herbs to — it provides a lush bass note for the springy greens, giving them a rounded, serious flavor that’s neither fishy nor garlicky. A dollop of yogurt stirred in turns the soup creamy and adds a slight tang. Made as written, it will deliver an especially saucy bowl of pasta. I like adding more broth for a soup-ier effect. Either way, it’s a marvelous magic trick for using up a pile of wilted greens and herbs so that nothing is wasted.

Get the recipe: Tiny Pasta With Tender Herbs, Chickpeas and Yogurt