12/17/2014 09:40 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

The Endless Bounty of Garbage Soup

This is my partner's version of how I invite friends to dinner: "Come on over--I'm cleaning out my refrigerator. I need to use everything that's about to spoil."

The truth is, I hate to see food go to waste--I'm my mother's daughter. But I'd never serve almost-spoiled food. And anyone who know me trusts my cooking.

Granted, my partner, of aristocratic Latin stock, is proper to the core and, when we met, had no tolerance for leftovers. She also was taught that it is bad manners to clean your plate. I was raised by second-generation Ashkenazi Jews in the food business. I was taught to eat everything because the children in Europe were starving.

After decades together, my partner has learned to love my long as I don't tell anyone.

One Monday evening last summer, for example, I paired (previously uncooked) salmon burgers with caramelized onions, fresh spinach, corn on the cob, and two recycled side dishes: a medley of roasted potatoes, carrots, and onions that we'd had with steak on Friday night and cucumber salad that went with Saturday's tuna lunch.

We polished off the cukes and burgers but were left with small portions of everything else. "You could make a soup," my partner joked as we cleared the table.

"Good idea!" I said, immediately transferring the ingredients to a single bowl. I picked up a half-ear of corn. "And I can use this, too."

I ignored her "Ugh!" The sweetness of the corn would balance the strong spinach taste.

In the kitchen and out of sight, I also added the pepper strips left over from Friday's steak dinner. Admittedly, it looked like garbage. I plowed ahead anyway, dicing a zucchini I'd cut into a few days earlier and half an onion that was also begging to be used.

Once the raw vegetables were slightly cooked, I added the bowl of garbage to the mix and water to cover. After the concoction simmered for an hour or two, I threw it all into the blender.

Two days later, sitting on the beach, I invited our friend Gregg for an impromptu lunch. "Want to join us for some garbage soup?" I knew my partner would cringe. I would later discover that one can find recipes online for "garbage soup." I served mine cold with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives. Gregg loved it.

I froze the leftover portion, schlepped it back to my house in Massachusetts, and then to my apartment in Manhattan, where--two months later--I served it hot, paired with warm, crusty bread. When I told my partner--by then, back at her post in Paris--that I'd served our friends last summer's garbage soup, she said, "I hope you didn't tell them." But of course I had.

Melinda Blau, author, speaker, and an avid home cook, writes the Dear Family Whisperer column on the Huffington Post.