THE FOODIE FILES: Kitchen scrap mojo

By on June 30, 2015

Root to stalk cooking uses the whole veg, eliminates waste

There are plenty of delicious uses for your vegetable scraps. Try using swiss chard stalks in hummus for a dynamic dip. (Credit: Annie Fenn)

There are plenty of delicious uses for your vegetable scraps. Try using swiss chard stalks in hummus for a dynamic dip.
(Credit: Annie Fenn)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – My Sicilian grandmother would get a kick out of the latest food trend of cooking vegetables root to stalk. I’m pretty sure she never threw out anything that was remotely edible. Vegetables scraps went into the lentil soup, spent Parmesan rinds into the minestrone and bits and pieces of the week’s meat were used to make the “Sunday Sauce” — a cauldron of tomato sauce, meatballs and braciole.

Apparently modern Americans have gotten cavalier about throwing food away. Forty percent of the food supply ends up in the dumpster, enough to fill the Rose Bowl stadium twice every day. That’s 25 percent of our groceries, costing up to $2,000 per year per household.

Teton County residents aren’t doing much better than the status quo when it comes to reducing food waste, according to Ali Dunford, executive director of Hole Food Rescue. “We could do a lot better than we are,” Dunford said. And she should know — with a team of 50 volunteers, Hole Food Rescue repurposes an average of 350 pounds of food every day that has been discarded by grocery stores, restaurants and parties.

What about the kitchen scraps? The stuff left over after prepping for meals?

“Without a county composting facility, most of those scraps head to the landfill,” Dunford said.

What if you could take those scraps — think kale ribs, Swiss chard stalks and carrot tops — and turn them into something good to eat? With a few tricks in the kitchen you could save money, reduce your carbon footprint and discover a few dishes that you never even knew existed. Swiss chard stalk hummus, anyone?

Conscientious chefs around the country are doing just that with the root to stalk movement. Just like the nose to tail method of butchering, which wastes no part of the animal, root to stalk cooking uses the whole vegetable — root, stem, leaf stalk and all.

Dan Barber, author of “The Third Plate” and chef at Blue Hill restaurant in New York, is leading the trend to move vegetables, and all their scraps, to the center of the plate. When visiting his tiny West Village restaurant last month, I ordered the “Farmer’s Feast,” a six-course tasting menu featuring what’s recently been dug up at his family’s Hudson Valley farm. The first course was a plate of two pristine radishes with leaves attached, served with a puddle of parsnip “butter” for dipping. The young radish leaves had the most amazing astringent flavor, like a radish, yet less assertive – never again will I lop off radish tops and throw them in the compost pail.

Barber has gotten people talking about food waste with his series of pop-up dinners featuring food that has been thrown away. WastEd, as in “waste education” not “let’s get wasted,” features guest chefs like Mario Batali and April Bloomfield making beautiful food out of bruised fruit, kale ribs and fish heads. Apparently the juice pulp cheeseburger with bruised beet ketchup and pickled cucumber butts was a huge hit.

You don’t have to be a top chef to do some creative and tasty things with your vegetable scraps. Take fennel for example, one of my favorite vegetables, which has a licorice-flavored bulb and a substantial stalk with dill-like fronds. The bulb is often eaten raw in salads, but most would discard the rest of the plant. How about simmering those stalks in water or wine to make stock for an awesome seafood risotto? Those flavorful fronds can garnish salads and soup, but can also be used to make a unique pesto: just add a handful to your usual basil pesto recipe.

Broccoli stalks are another great source of nutritious veggie scraps. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough skin and sliver the stalks for a vegetable slaw, chop them and add to a stir-fry, or simmer to make stock for broccoli soup. Cauliflower stalks are even easier to cook with; when steamed and pureed they have the most delicate flavor that is perfect for Indian-spiced dishes. And don’t throw away the cauliflower leaves; bake them like you would for kale chips. Toss the leaves with olive oil and kosher salt and bake at 375 degrees until crispy around the edges.

One of the advantages of shopping at the farmers market is that the vegetables still have all their roots, stems and leaves attached. The leafy tops of carrots, beets, radishes and turnips are all edible and delicious. When you get home, separate the greens from the roots or else the leaves will siphon off their moisture. Washed greens, wrapped in a paper towel, will keep quite a while in the fridge. Toss them raw into salads or pesto or cook them in olive oil until soft.

I’d be willing to bet that any gardener out there is a pro at cooking with the whole vegetable. It’s not easy growing food at high altitude; it takes a lot of digging and hoeing, watering and weeding. Once my Swiss chard is big enough to harvest, I’ll chop the leaves, sauté them in olive oil and garlic, and mix with ricotta to make manicotti. I’ll have a pile of stalks leftover – perfect for this Swiss chard stalk hummus recipe I found on the foodie website Food52. It’s just as good with kale ribs, just be sure to boil them until they are really soft.

Swiss Chard Stalk Hummus

Adapted from “Root to Stalk Cooking” by Tara Duggan

Chard stalks from 1-pound whole chard, trimmed and chopped

1 whole clove garlic, peeled

¼ cup tahini

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Sumac and fresh parsley, for finishing

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the stalks until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain.

Place garlic in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add the chard stalk and purée, and then add the remaining ingredients. Process until smooth.

Transfer to a shallow bowl. Sprinkle with sumac, drizzle with olive oil, top with parsley leaves and serve at room temperature.

Yields one cup.

About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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