We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: Tara Duggan gives vegetables the nose-to-tail treatment, and gives you a few free books.
You've likely seen the macho chef on TV or on the subway with a tattoo of a whole pig somewhere on his body: divided into cuts like a map, it is a walking advertisement for the nose-to-tail movement. Use the whole beast, it pleads. Use it all.
With her new book, Root to Stalk Cooking, Tara Duggan is here to be the same sort of advocate for vegetables. Her recipes use every possible part of the vegetable, from corn husks to broccoli leaves to apple peels. (She soaks her peels in bourbon. We like Tara.) We recently chatted with her about minimizing kitchen waste, the rules of vegetable stock, and how to include vegetables in dessert.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was a combination of what I was seeing in restaurants and farms in Northern California. I wrote an article in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back called “Scrap Artistry” about restaurant chefs serving battered swiss chard stems with blood orange aglioli and making Fennel Risotto with fennel stock, garnished with fennel fronds. They were naming the extra vegetable parts on the menu just like they would with animal parts, leading off the nose-to-tail movement.
Another way to use your chard stalks: grilled, dressed, and served as a side dish.
I was also spending a lot of time at my brother's farm. I would notice things like how the broccoli plants had these amazing leaves that no one seemed to ever eat, even though they are sweet like broccoli and silky and tender like spinach. Because the farm has limited water and is solar powered, you’re always aware of waste. It seemed strange that no one had thought to cook these delicious leaves, or the gorgeous stems in a bunch of rainbow chard.
What is the most underutilized vegetable or vegetable part?
Broccoli stems for sure. They are often just cut off before the consumer even sees them, or home cooks often discard them. If you just trim the end and cut off the thick skin with four quick cuts, you have sweet, crunchy batons you can eat as crudités, stir fry, or shave into salads.
What's the easiest way for home cooks to reduce vegetable waste?
If you think ahead when you're buying, you can be creative with some of the extra vegetable parts instead of buying others. For example, use beet greens in place of a bunch of chard -- they're very similar in flavor and texture, and actually close cousins botanically. I also use leek greens as a mildly onion-y green in soups and stir frys -- they take about 10 minutes to become tender, and then they’re delicious.
Sometimes I'll swap fennel fronds for dill. It’s not an exact match, but they have a similar texture and flavor profile. Basically, think about ways you can incorporate the bonus vegetable parts into dishes so you can be sure they’ll get used. And be flexible with flavors.
Are there any vegetables that should never be added to vegetable stock?
Artichoke parts. They smell terrible after a bit of boiling and become very bitter -- the exact opposite of what you want them to be. Beet parts aren’t ideal either, unless you like pink stock.
Any favorite ways to sneak vegetables into dessert?
If you’re preparing a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers this time of year, many recipes call for removing the seeds, which are surrounded by delicious tomato water and cucumber water. I love collecting the juices from cutting and deseeding tomatoes and then making a granita flavored with a little sugar syrup, salt, and a pinch of cayenne. Its flavor is the essence of tomato.
I also like to use up an extra half of an avocado in a mildly sweet lassi, or purée extra roasted butternut squash for ice cream. When it comes to real vegetables, fennel is so naturally sweet that you can candy the stalks. Just slice them thinly, toss in simple syrup and dehydrate them in the oven until crisp.
Want to implement root-to-stalk cooking in your own kitchen? We're giving away five copies of Tara's book. To enter, tell us in the comments: What's your favorite way to use up vegetable scraps? We'll choose five winners at random by Friday, September 13 at 3 PM EST.
Cover photo and photo of Tara by Clay McClachlan. All other photos by James Ransom.