How Mario Batali Makes "Ugly" Vegetables Beautiful

April 22, 2016

Each year, some 6 billion pounds of US fruits and vegetables go un-harvested or unsold. The sad fact is, this waste has nothing to do with the flavor or nutritional benefits of the tossed produce, but instead has everything to do with the looks and cosmetic appeal of it.

"Ugly" parsnip crossing his fingers he'll be transformed into a beautiful pasta Photo by Bobbi Lin

Chefs are experts at picking the choicest fruits and vegetables. We wake up early to beat the crowds at the greenmarket to get the pick of the produce litter, or the best produce we can find.

But chefs (and good home cooks) are also resourceful and smart when it comes to the “cosmetically-challenged” produce. We realize that just because a fruit or vegetable may look the best, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the tastiest. In fact, often times the gnarly, bruised fruits and vegetables are the tastiest. The trick is to look past the bruises and blemishes and get to know its inner beauty.

The sad truth is, by purchasing only the best-looking produce, we are encouraging more food to go to waste by fostering a system in which consumers neglect ugly fruit, so grocery stores and markets refuse to carry them, but that may be changing:

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The French supermarket chain Intermarché started an Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign a couple of year ago, to get consumers to see the beauty in ugly produce—and it was so successful that it inspired five of their major competitors to do the same. Giant Eagle grocery stores (headquartered in Pennsylvania) is making similar changes: They recently announced a new initiative for less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables to be packaged under a label that reads, "Produce with Personality" (Don’t you just love that?).

Left: Before... Right: After! Photo by Bobbi Lin

This Earth Day, I beseech you to prevent additional food waste and prevent these fruits and vegetables from ending up in a landfill just because they don’t meet our “standards" of beauty.

Try going for the produce that you might have typically overlooked—like the parsnips I used to create this Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta. They may not look the best before the pasta—but look how beautiful they look in it—and delicious, too! Spread the word!

What do you turn ugly vegetables into? Soup? Salad? Tell me in the comments below!

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Mario Batali counts 25 restaurants, 11 cookbooks, numerous television shows and the 50,000-square-foot Eataly marketplace among his ever-expanding empire of deliciousness. His latest book is "America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers" (Grand Central Life & Style, 2014).