Fair point, well made, Miles: everyone’s looking for smart ways to eke out supplies at the moment, and veg trimmings are no exception. As chef Skye Gyngell explains, “You can use a heck of a lot more of a fruit or vegetable than you might think: there’s loads of goodness in those skins, stalks and stems, and they’re just as flavourful as the rest.” Make sure they’re well washed, though.
We’re in the hungry gap right now, and while pickings are very much on the slim side, veg offcuts aren’t only of use in the stock pot. Gyngell, whose London restaurant Spring offered a daily “scratch” menu made from so-called “waste produce”, uses carrot, parsnip and swede peelings, say, in a simple slaw: “Toss with yoghurt or creme fraiche, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, honey for sweetness and season. You’ll be surprised how good it is.” If the mood takes you, add toasted spices or nuts and any herbs to hand – the stalks really come into their own here – and serve alongside grilled chicken or fish, or on a baked potato.
Tired green veg – spinach, cabbage, whatever – limp lettuce and herb stems can be repurposed into a salsa for grilled meat or fish, or to toss through yoghurt as a dressing for roast veg or eggs any which way. “Steam the greens with a couple of garlic cloves until they wilt,” Gyngell says, “blitz, then braise slowly with a glug of olive oil, some chilli, cumin and a big pinch of salt, until all the water evaporates. It keeps for ages in the fridge.” Add chopped preserved lemon and/or black olives to the mix, and you’ll have a deeper, more complex sauce that you’d never guess was made with stuff that’s more commonly destined for the compost.
Professional kitchens, of course, have always been masters of using up every last odd and sod. Jane Baxter, co-owner of Wild Artichokes in Kingsbridge, Devon, laughs at the memory of the “fridge soup” they knocked up at one of her first cheffing gigs back in the 1980s: “All sorts went into it, from knackered lettuce and cabbage to leek tops and spring onion ends. We called it ‘lettuce soup’ on the menu, and no one ever guessed what it was made of.”
The likes of beet, radish and kohlrabi tops, meanwhile, can be treated just like any other greens, Baxter says. “Southern Europeans have been cooking them like this for centuries. Wilt them in a little oil, flavour with onion, garlic and any spice you fancy, and you have a brilliantly frugal side or toast topping.”
Broccoli stalks are great grilled: “Chop them into batons, stick in a toastie maker or dry pan until slightly charred, then dress with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper while they’re still hot, so they absorb all the flavours.” As for cauliflower leaves, “A friend showed me how to turn them into crisps a few years ago and now I never throw them away: toss in oil, season, sprinkle with your favourite spice – fennel seed works brilliantly – bake in a medium oven for 20 minutes, and Bob’s your uncle.”