I struggled with a good name for this post . It’s true though.
Saving and using kitchen scraps is not just about being frugal which is great, and we should all be less wasteful , but there is some very serious cooking to learn from great chefs that not only don’t want to waste food, but are out there creating the very best foods by using what we all often just throw away.
This is not big , new- news. Great chefs have always depended on parts , stuff , bones and bits- what most of us often discard. Most chefs would proclaim looking down on what would appear to be headed for the trash can , ” Now there, that’s the good stuff” .
Always and forever chefs have used these under appreciated produce parts to enhance whatever they may be creating. Our grandparents did too. What our elders may have done daily out of frugality is exactly what chefs strive to do everyday to enhance their plates.
Let’s face it , grandma made great food . Grandma was proud of her great food too . She and grandpa knew that these “parts “made the flavor happen. They may have had to make do , but tough times also taught them the intricacies of cooking , creating, and of how to make food taste incredible with only a few ingredients – the best ‘ parts”. It may have been simple cooking , but there is a reason why it tasted so amazing . It’s all about the good ” stuff” – the bits , pieces and parts that we casually discard most everyday.
So here is some good stuff, really good stuff !
The more obvious “parts”
Ends of onions, celery and carrots
Don’t throw them away, just give them a quick wash, and put them in a bag and into the freezer. Important ! Find a spot in the freezer that will just be for your unappreciated produce parts and bits. This way they won’t wind up in the freezer abyss ( we all have one ! ) to be found, possibly years in the future, totally unrecognizable.
Not a bad idea to label them too. Maybe keep your carrots, celery and onion ends all together in a separate bag that you can keep adding to. When you manage to collect enough , it’s time to make your own vegetable stock or add them to a beef or chicken stock. Just throw what you have collected ( make sure it’s a nice, super big bag full , you ‘ll want to have enough “parts ” to really season your broth) and cover with water in a slow cooker or stew pot. Add some fresh or dried herbs ( thyme, rosemary, garlic powder or any favorite ) , light salt and pepper, and let it slowly simmer for several hours. There ,you have made your first, very own simple vegetable stock that you can now use instead of paying 3-4 dollars for a box or can of stock that is loaded with salt. Even the low sodium stocks are full of salt. Your stock will also taste so much better ! Very often I let it simmer once and then do it all over again the next day – just works for me – seems to condense the flavor that much more. O f course, when you are satisfied with the taste , you then strain out the vegetables and store or use your beautiful vegetable broth. It will freeze fine , but using it right away is always best or keep in fridge for a week .
If you are making chicken or beef stock , it’s basically the same thing. Take your beef or pork bones or chicken carcass, and place it into a slow cooker or big stew pot , cover with water and your carrot, onion and celery ends that you have collected, your herbs of choice , a little salt and pepper ( I always use very little – you can add salt later in whatever dish you make with your stock ) , and let it simmer 2-3 hours. Again, I do this one day and then again the next day . You don’t have to . I just find it makes the stock even more flavorful . I may have to add a bit more water the second day and make sure it is always at very low and slow simmer.
The not so obvious “parts”
Broccoli and asparagus stems
These can be kept in their own bag. Purchase the whole broccoli . Purchasing the entire head of broccoli is less expensive than purchasing just the broccoli heads, and most markets nowadays still offer both. If they don’t, get the manager and ask why they are only selling broccoli heads. There is no reason for you or any other consumer to be forced to pay more for less product. Stems are useful! And no , you are not just being cheap. It’s about the good stuff. No matter how tough you think those stems are, they are going to make you the most amazing delicate broccoli – cheddar soup ! So save some money, and buy the whole head, cut the stems off , chop up , and save in the freezer ( not the abyss, but that special spot in there that you just newly created ).
Asparagus stems also make great asparagus soup . You would never think so because they seem to be so woody , but it’s true ! Chop up , save, and freeze !
Super Easy Asparagus or Broccoli “parts” soup
leftover stems from two bunches of asparagus or broccoli – chopped small so they will soften quickly, 3 Tablespoons olive oil , 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, 2 small yellow onions chopped fine, 3 cloves of garlic chopped fine, 4-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth ( your own would be great! ) , 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, handful of fresh herbs of choice ( thyme, dill , basil )
Heat your olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Soften your onions and garlic in the olive oil and melted butter, add your asparagus or broccoli “parts” chopped small – let them soften in the olive oil , garlic and onions. When they are super soft ( careful not to brown ) transfer them to a stock pot or slow cooker. Then add your stock , your herbs of choice, a little salt and pepper , and simmer 30 min. Now , if all is nice and softened, take all the vegetables out and blend in a blender until smooth and pour back into your broth. You will now have a wonderful creamy soup ! You could add some heavy cream , but you will find , as I did, to be unnecessary. It’ s great just the way it is . Add the Parmesan or sometimes I use cheddar , stir and add the lemon juice and maybe a little more salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy as is or add the steamed asparagus tips or some steamed broccoli florets to the soup before serving. You don’t need these if you are working with leftover frozen asparagus and broccoli “parts” . With them or without them the soup is wonderful ! And it’s yours made from scratch ! No added ingredients that you wouldn’t want your family to eat !
Leeks Tops –
I use a lot of leeks. I’m kind of hooked on them , so I always saved the rooty white ends for an addition to a future vegetable broth , but I never did save the leaves until now . I don’t know why I didn’t add the long green leaves to my homemade broth to begin with. I just assumed they didn’t taste like much.Well, I was wrong- learn something everyday! Turns out these long dark green leaves can be used in so many other ways too, and they are quite delicious. They just take a little extra care to prepare so they don’t remain tough. Grilled Leek Tops with Chili -Garlic sauce here :
These were delicious. Be sure to slice them longways and very thin. They will soften right up.
Use leek tops as a bed for steaming your favorite fish. Place washed dark green leaf tops on the bottom of your baking dish along with a few thinly sliced lemons, a little water or vegetable stock. Not too much liquid though, and place your seasoned fish on top. You don’t want your fish to be swimming in liquid, you just want it to steam. Love this idea !
Wrap and tie fresh herbs inside a square pocket made of leek top leaves and use as a bouquet garni . You could make these little pillows ahead and freeze them to take out and use in the future. This is great if you have a lot fresh herbs available . Use these within 2 months if you do freeze them .
Sliced longways and super thin, leek tops are great added to stir fries too !
Did you ever try to simply saute your beet greens in a little olive oil , salt and pepper? They are so delicious ! Something else I didn’t discover until I was over 50 !
Don’t throw them away !!!! Saute them this way , throw a few pine nuts on top and serve at a dinner party – what a hit !
Sometimes I’ll chop them up into smaller pieces just so they will cook and soften more quickly. I’ll do this especially if the tops are very large and , yes, they are tough, but they will soften right up if chopped up into smaller pieces ahead of time.
Chopped up raw and super fine , they are also a great addition to your salads.
Apple Cores and Peels
Especially in the fall , when your kitchen is cranking out all things apple , don’t throw away those cores and peels. Make your own raw apple cider vinegar. Have you priced this at the supermarket ? If you enjoy the benefits of a raw apple cider vinegar everyday ( a little , not a lot ! moderation ! ) this is a great way to save some money and have plenty on hand to cook with too .
I would only use organic apples to do this though. Take your peels and cores and place in a quart jar or a large crock if you have a lot of them.
Mix 1 tablespoon of sugar to one cup of water and let dissolve completely . You need to make enough to fully cover your apple “parts “. You can do this without sugar ( apples contain their own ) , but adding sugar does help the process along. I have done it both ways ,and both are equally good. Sugarless takes longer to develop into vinegar.
Fully cover your apple ” parts ” with the dissolved sugar mixture, and cover your container with a coffee filter or cheesecloth . Then let it do its fermenting thing. Start checking it at 2 weeks and carefully remove the scum on the top – it’s o.k., that’s supposed to happen. Take a little taste . It should have a ways to go yet to get that vinegar tang. One time I did this , and it took 5 weeks before I was satisfied with the flavor.
If you are really lucky you will find a big blob in the container . That is the vinegar “mother” and it can be used to quick start your next batch. It’s O.K. if you don’t develop one too. I have yet to be lucky enough to have found one !
Now , when you are satisfied with the flavor and tang, strain and save like you would any other vinegar only this is soooooo much better, and it is raw – not pasteurized. Great for you to use in salad dressings too. If you use it to ward off colds or just for its nutrient values, use with discretion. Everyone tends to overdue everything these days. More is not better – a teaspoon a day is fine and , just in case , check with your doctor.
The take away-
Before you toss to the trash all that “stuff, parts , and bits ” , think for a moment what it may be good for. It just may have a second life. I’m sure that it does.
There is always soup !
Going to pursue a Part 2 to this as I have discovered so many new recipes for “parts, stuff , scraps , and bits ” .