Frugality equals creativity in my kitchen. As a young chef, I used to save scraps of food out of necessity; in a professional kitchen, it is important that nothing is wasted. But now I do it for the sheer challenge of creating a vegetable version of the meat-centric “nose-to-tail” movement, in which the aim is to eat every part of the animal, not just the acceptable bits. In the process, I’ve found that there is nothing better than making a throwaway ingredient shine as the centerpiece of a dish, a concept that is just as relevant in the produce section as it is in the butchery. During the bleak winter months, in lieu of the fresh leafy greens that are either unavailable or too costly, I turn to heartier vegetables with roasted flavors.
This is a perfect opportunity to practice whole-vegetable cookery. Whether you’re dealing with chard or broccoli stems, or the heel-end of a bunch of celery, these scraps may look unattractive, but they are just as nutritious as the rest of the vegetable and contain lots of fiber. It just takes a little knowledge of how to make them tender.
Take broccoli stems. How many times have you tossed them into the waste bin? I slice off the tough exterior to get at the creamy, subtly-flavored inner flesh. I then use a vegetable peeler to make thin ribbons that can be cooked al dente to resemble pasta. The texture is succulent, and because of its mildness, it is a perfect backdrop for some of winter’s more robust flavors. Cauliflower stems work too, as do the leaf stalks of winter greens like chard, kale, and beets, although they require a longer braising time to soften.
Celeriac (a round, knobbly, hairy root vegetable that is also known as celery root) is my favorite winter ingredient. It offers a bright note in the middle of a season marked by heavier root vegetables. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find, but I’ve discovered that nestled right at the end of a standard bunch of celery is a root nub that when cooked tastes pretty much the same as celeriac. First I cut the stalks to about an inch off the root end. Then, using a veggie peeler, I shave away the tough exterior to reveal a fragrant root that is perfect for oven roasting. The flavor is reminiscent of celery but with a caramelized sweetness. Toss together some winter ingredients like blue cheese and hazelnuts, and your guests will be asking you what this intriguing new ingredient is. Make up a fancy name or tell them exactly what it is. Just don’t tell them you got it from the waste bin.
Try these recipes: