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How We (and Dan Barber) Cook with Trash

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Today: Last week, we asked Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan, to transform our test kitchen scraps into a gourmet meal. This week, we challenged ourselves to do the same thing.


This past March, Dan Barber served a burger patty made out of the discarded fruit pulp from New York City's popular juice bar, Liquiteria. The pulp, out of byproducts from drinks like "Berry Powerful" and "Mean Green," had been dyed with beet juice so that it better resembled a meat patty. The bun was composed of stale, leftover bread from the bakery at Balthazar, which was then rehydrated with water, mashed, and baked into a "fresh" bun. This unconventional burger was part of Dan's pop-up restaurant, wastED, which temporarily replaced his permanent restaurant Blue Hill in Greenwich Village, Mahattan. The three-week event called attention to the astounding amount of edible food that gets thrown away in the United States every year—133 billion pounds, to be exact.

The bin of food scraps we sent to Dan Barber including half-cooked pasta, over-ripe citrus, bruised lettuce, and vegetable stems.

Last week, we asked Dan to take a look at one day's worth of Food52's test kitchen's scraps. After seeing his plated meal (masterpiece?), made from little more than a few vegetable odds and ends, we decided to take the "wastED challenge" ourselves and turn the scraps from yesterday's photo shoot into a dish. How hard could it be? (Right?)

More: Want to start your own wastED challenged? Here are 5 ways to use your vegetable scraps for good.

While we have an intra-office system to make sure all of the food we photograph gets eaten or sent home with team members, we found ourselves with an abundance of leftovers and unused vegetable ends after two particularly packed photo shoots. Here's what Dan had to work with: bruised bok choy ends and scallion stems from a fried rice dishradish greens from a Spring Vegetable Jumblemushy peasflat-leaf parsley stems, and rigid kale stems from Soba with Parsley-Pea Pesto and Kalehalf-cooked shells and onions from a stuffed-pasta dish, and some shriveled citrus.

Dan's "gremolata" made from parsley stems, scallion scraps, citrus zest, and stale bread.

Dan immediately set to transforming our scraps into a beautiful, restaurant-quality dish with two rules: Use as many of the scraps as possible, without the addition of any other foods. In a food processor, he pulsed together the parsley and scallion scraps along with some citrus zest and his own stale bread to make a "gremolata." He said, "Stale bread was the only ingredient that we added to the dish [in addition to the Food52 scraps], aside from salt and pepper."

Meanwhile, he blanched and puréed the discarded greens (some parsley leaves, kale, and a few pieces of romaine that snuck into the mix) with some sautéed onions and water to make a green sauce. He then julienned the large pasta shells into narrow strips, approximately the width of linguine, and blanched the peas.

The final dish. (Who knew our kitchen scraps could look so beautiful?)

Finally, he sautéed the bok choy butts (his term, not ours—though we're thinking about adopting it) to slightly caramelize the tops. In a sauté pan, he heated some garlic in oil, then tossed the "noodles" from the pasta shells into it along with the blanched peas and kale. To plate the dish, he spooned three small circles of the green sauce onto a plate, on top of which he placed three bok choy ends, carved into florets. He sprinkled the gremolata into each bok choy flower, then garnished the dish with the noodles, peas, and sautéed kale leaves—who knew pasta could make such an apt garnish? But then the truth came out: "I think we also shaved some dehydrated blood sausage over the top—I guess that was cheating, too." You know what we call cheaters at Food52? Competition. The next day, we came out with our own (completely by-the-rules) scrap dish.

The kitchen scraps we had to work with including some mushrooms, soba noodles, a fennel bulb, and lots of greens.

Flash forward to yesterday morning and we kept looking at Dan's creation. Dehydrated sausage or not, it inspired us. By the end of the day, we had gathered our own set of scraps for round 2: cilantro stems from a Thai gremolatalime from an upcoming post on blended drinks (Spoiler alter: Piña coladas are coming to a Food52 near you), sprouts left over from the previous day's avocado toast, egg yolks from an upcoming Genius recipe, and soba noodles from Braised Peanut Curry Chicken. An upcoming Genius stir-fry was the greatest gift of all. It gave us leftover mushroom stemsginger, arugulachard and parsley stems, limp scallion greens, and a fennel bulb and fronds. After making a rudimentary list ("Soba noodle salad with an herby vinaigrette topped with egg yolks??"), we set to work.

Left: Allison and Derek carefully plate their kitchen scraps salad. Right: James grabs a shot of the salad.

Our test kitchen managers, Derek and Allison, began by pan-searing the mushroom stems until lightly browned and cooked through. They then fried the soba noodles in vegetable oil for roughly 30 seconds into a crispy nest. Derek puréed the parsley and cilantro stems, scallion greens, ginger, arugula, and lime zest and juice into a lime-based vinaigrette while Allison arranged the soba noodles into a "bird's nest," topped with the hard-boiled egg yolks and some baby Bibb lettuce, recovered from the back of the fridge. They garnished the salad with shaved half-moons of fennel bulb and some fronds, thinly sliced chard stems, and some of the seared mushrooms, and voilá! Kitchen scraps fit for a king.

Our final product, the Spring Cleaning.

The hardest part was naming the scrap salad. When I came over to take a look at the final photo, I found Derek sitting on the ground, Allison hunched over, and James, the photographer, leaning on his desk with with both hands at his forehead. It had been a long day. After several seconds, James broke the silence. He declared, "I shall call it my squishy," clearly feeling the effects of the day. Derek weighed the merits of "Nesting Insticts" while James came back with, "Freegan Amazing." In the end, "Spring Cleaning" won unanimously. We hope that's what Dan Barber calls it when he puts it on the menu at Blue Hill. (We're only half-joking.)

How do you use your dinnertime scraps? How do you think we did? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos of Dan Barber's dish courtesy of Blue Hill; final and ingredient shot of Spring Cleaning by James Ransom; all others by Leslie Stephens

Tags: Vegetable, Sustainability, Cooking with Scraps, DIY Food