Somehow, the ingredients that give your recipe that je ne sais quoi always seem to be the ones that linger unappetizingly and accusingly long after the original dish is gone. Who among us hasn't optimistically refrigerated the remaining half-can of anchovies or crushed tomatoes with the noble intention to use them before their expiration date, only to find them hidden in the back of the shelf days — even weeks — afterward?

We feel guilty because, of course, there are bigger environmental and economic implications to wasted food. "The numbers are startling," says Dori Owczarzak, a food safety and quality educator at Penn State Extension. "In the U.S., we waste 1.3 million tons of food every day, which is about 1,500 calories per person, while so many people go hungry."

While an errant anchovy can't feed the world, it's a place to start. With some help from Owczarzak and local chefs, here's a guide for repurposing the most likely leftover suspects.

Anchovies

If at the table there are fans of tiny, salted fish, not much embellishment is needed, Jeff Michaud of Osteria says. Serve anchovies on bread with good mozzarella or burrata cheese, or put them on greens.

(Let it be known that in Michaud's Italian wife's home kitchen, leftovers are the cause of celebration and innovation — their daughter has been known to bring rabbit in her school lunchbox.)

However, if the anchovies in question don't merit a starring role, it's better to incorporate them into a sauce or dressing. Michaud makes a beautiful side dish by cooking the anchovies down until they dissolve into olive oil and gently braising three colors of carrots in this warm bath. Finally, they get tossed with parsley and lemon juice and served at room temperature.

Marigold Kitchen's Eric Leveillee adds anchovies and a long strip of orange zest to canned tomatoes for his signature tomato sauce, inspired by his French Canadian heritage. "You get some sweetness and brightness from the orange zest, and the anchovies round out the acid and tame it while adding umami," he says.

Buttermilk

For some reason, dairies insist on packaging this little-used beverage by the quart, when recipes rarely call for more than two cups. Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient that can be used for such baked goods as biscuits and layer cakes, and in pancake and waffle batter. But because it has a short expiration date, it can quickly curdle into a sad symbol of unrealized culinary dreams.

Roast or fried chicken always benefit from a buttermilk soak, which tenderizes the meat and gives it tang. Salad dressings and chilled soups can be built on its cool, white base. Buttermilk can also be the foundation for a caramel sauce, says Sam Kincaid of Cadence BYOB. She cooks it low and slow with sugar and salt until it turns into a sort of dulce de leche, then serves it over fruit or a matching buttermilk ice.

At Marigold Kitchen, Leveillee scrapes up a similar buttermilk granita with simple syrup (he uses glucose, but cane sugar can be substituted). As a four-ingredient dessert, it couldn't be easier, and it makes a lovely accompaniment for summer fruits such as berries and peaches. (He also adds pureed oysters to the same granita to serve with a crudo as an appetizer — but because it's unlikely that most people have extra raw oysters lying around, that's a recipe for another day.)

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

These wonderful flavor bombs add instant appeal to burgers and meatloaf, but the squat cans inevitably pack more contents than needed. Either the finely chopped peppers or their sauce can be added to creamy condiments such as crema and mayo, or used to perk up marinades, barbecue sauce, and Bloody Marys. Use them in place of meat to spice up vegetarian cooking such as a pot of beans. Fork some into butter and use it to top corn on the cob, or swirl a bit into scrambled eggs. Bon Appetit suggests blending them with cashews to make a smooth, smoky dip.

Coconut milk

It was probably a curry that left you high (but not dry) with a half-can of coconut milk. Luckily, this leftover makes an easy addition to any sort of smoothie. Serve it with granola (see random nuts, below) or oatmeal. Use it to braise greens or cook rice or beans for a sweet accent. Barring these, it can be reduced, like Kincaid's buttermilk, until it forms a caramel or an intense flavor paste to add to other sweet dishes.

Herbs

When the recipe asks for chervil, take a deep breath and ponder your relationship with herbs. In most cases, you could save the two bucks and use the parsley already in the fridge. If you must be a purist, make a plan to use or freeze your leftover herbs ASAP. Some ideas: Cut triangles of pita, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with a mixture of finely minced herbs and bake in the oven until golden for homemade chips. Toss handfuls of herbs into salad greens or whisk them into your leftover sour cream and buttermilk to make extra-herby salad dressings such as ranch and green goddess, the latter of which also happens to be a great use for your extra anchovies. Warm up some oil and add the herbs to infuse it with flavor. (Also works with chipotle peppers and even veggie scraps such as fava bean skins, says Leveillee.)

Random nuts

A salad called for walnuts; your cookies needed almonds. Next thing you know, you have five twist-tied baggies from the bulk section of mismatched seeds and kernels. The good thing about nuts is that they can almost always be swapped out for another variety in a recipe.

Throw toasted nuts into salad, baked goods, and pastas. If a pantry sweep is needed, homemade granola brilliantly takes care of all the nuts and any bits and bobs of dried fruits, too.

Owczarzak invites home cooks to experiment with pesto. "Walnuts are just as good as pine nuts, and other herbs besides basil can work there, as well," she says.

Sour cream and crème fraîche

In two words: jacket potato. A few more: cooked beets, French onion dip, cheesecake, blintzes, latkes. When it comes to crème fraîche, not much ingenuity is required. Michaud likes to stir it up with a bit of sugar and lemon juice if it's not very acidic and serve with berries or on a piece of pound or angel food cake.

Bonus: Bread ends

The least exotic but most common kitchen leftover should never be wasted, especially when there are so many crowd-pleasing uses such as French toast, bread pudding, and croutons. If it's a good crusty baguette or peasant loaf, turn it into panzanella: Throw in some tomatoes and really any vegetables — roasted winter roots can also work in the colder months — and toss the mixture with herbs and a good olive oil dressing. Kincaid likes to make panade, folding cream-soaked bread bits into her ground meat to make it more deliciously tender and baking it with escarole and white beans. This is an all-purpose leftover recipe that can use up any vegetable scraps and/or cheese.

If the kids won't eat crusts, save them up in a gallon freezer bag and add as gathered, says  Owczarzak. "I feel guilty to admit this but as a mom, I do cut the crusts off sandwiches to avoid battles. When the bag is full, I make stuffing with the bread, which is something we all enjoy."

Another option is to throw the collection into the food processor and make crumbs for coating chicken and fish or tossing into pasta.

Le Virtu's Damon Menapace uses extra bread pieces to make canederli, or Italian bread dumplings. "A while ago I was asked to make a dish inspired by my Northern Italian heritage, and I found this one. You take leftover bread and soak it up with some milk, then add egg and cheese and whatever else you have — mushrooms or dried ham — and cook it in stock. You can serve it dry with a bit of stock to moisten or as a soup," he says. "This is the fun part of cooking. Taking lesser and leftover ingredients and making something more from them."

Tricolored spring carrots with Salsa Verde at Osteria.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Tricolored spring carrots with Salsa Verde at Osteria.

Tricolored Spring Carrots with Salsa Verde

Serves 4

1 quart tricolor carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch rounds

4 salted anchovies, soaked and cleaned

1 clove garlic

½ teaspoon chili flakes

¼ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Warm the oil over low heat with the anchovy and crushed garlic clove until the anchovies are melted. Add the carrots and cook slowly until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes and cool.
  2. Once cool, toss carrots with lemon juice, parsley and serve at room temperature.

— Courtesy of Jeff Michaud of Osteria

Canederli at Le Virtu.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Canederli at Le Virtu.

Canederli

Serves 6

½ loaf (300 grams) rustic bread, cubed

1 cup milk

3 whole eggs, lightly beaten

1 onion, small, diced and sautéed in butter

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups grated parmigiano, plus more for garnish

¼ cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

½  cup flour, plus more for coating balls.

2 quarts chicken stock

  1. Soak bread in milk for 2 hours.
  2. Add eggs, onion, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parmigiana, parsley, and flour and combine well.
  3. Form mixture into golf ball-size dumplings. Roll in flour.
  4. Bring chicken stock to a boil and drop in dumplings. Cook for 5-10 minutes. Serve in a bowl, with chicken stock and garnish with additional parsley and parmigiano.

— Courtesy of Damon Menapace of Le Virtu

Buttermilk Granita at Marigold Kitchen.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Buttermilk Granita at Marigold Kitchen.

Buttermilk Granita

Serves 4

3 cups water

2 cups caster sugar

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup buttermilk

  1. Combine water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Whisk in buttermilk, pour mixture into a wide metal pan and place in freezer. Scrape every 20 minutes until the mixture is frozen and flaky.

— Courtesy of Eric Leveillee of Marigold Kitchen