Waste Not, Want Not

I have an almost cellular aversion to wasting food. I don’t know if it’s the result of the steady drumbeat of “There are children starving in China!” I heard as a kid when I wasn’t finishing a meal (and which I now use on my own children, substituting a non-specific “somewhere in the world” for China). Or whether it’s just because I hate to see things wasted.

Wilted veggies from the Skinny Girls fridge

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before — I’ve written on this subject many times already in this blog. But it’s an issue that comes up often in my life, as I remind yet another dinner host to save the bones from the chicken they’ve just served to make a homemade stock. (Recipe: throw bones in a gallon of water with an onion, salt and bay leaf, cook until reduced by half.)

Here’s a couple other things I can see you throwing out (yes, I’m watching you)… and what you can do with them:

• A Loaf of Bread
Consider, if you will, the humble loaf of bread. We will often pick up a ciabatta or big baguette to have stinky cheese and wine before dinner. The next day, the leftover bread makes stellar sandwiches spread with a little butter and topped with salumi. If the bread makes it to Day 3 and is getting stale, all the better! Now things get interesting… Scrape the hard three-day-old loaf on a cheese grater and you’ve got bread crumbs you can store in a Tupperware. Cut into cubes and freeze to save for croutons when you make Caesar salad. Or make one of two Spanish soups with bread as a base: sopa de ajo (garlic soup with bread) or gazpacho (cold tomato soup). Or make panzanella, the famous Tuscan bread-and-tomato salad. (The Tuscans, by the way, rank among the world’s greatest non-wasteful people.)

• Wilted Veggies in the Fridge Drawer
Don’t throw those wilted vegetables out! Limp celery can be tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted to make a nice side dish. Mushy tomatoes can be cooked with olive oil and salt to make pasta sauce. Carrots that have lost their snap can be simmered in chicken broth, then pureed and finished with a little cream to make a gorgeous soup. Same with broccoli, cauliflower, greens, etc. Throw them all together with some chicken stock, beans and pasta, and prego! — a tasty quick Milanese minestrone (see below).

At the other end of the resourcefulness spectrum from the Tuscans are the Americans. At the farmer’s market, I watch as people ask for the tops cut off their beets. The tops ARE THE BEST PART!!! Americans get half as much tea from a tea bag as they should. You should get TWO cups out of every tea bag. Think of the money you’ll be saving!

Thankfully, there is a movement in the American food world known as “nose to tail,” which is a celebration of non-waste and the use of every part of an animal. (i.e. what most other cultures in the world already practice). I have a friend who is trying to get me to buy half a cow with him. While I have no room for a quarter cow, I like the idea of having to figure out what to do with all the miscellaneous parts. So in the meantime, I practice on smaller prey:

• A Duck
This is my classic example, because I so thoroughly use the entire animal. I remove the skin from everywhere but the breasts and cut it into strips, which I salt and then render in the oven for an hour or so. This gives me a couple cups of duck fat, and crispy duck cracklings (think sophisticated bacon) which are killer in salads and my kids love to snack on. (My former neighbor, Suzanne Tracht, chef/owner of the restaurant The Jar here in Los Angeles, once brought over duck crackling BLTs!) The breasts I cut off and freeze for later use. The legs and thighs I cure in salt overnight, then cook in their own fat at a very low temperature for a couple hours — voila,  confit de canard, one of the world’s great preserves. The fat will keep for a year in the freezer, and improves almost anything you put it in. With little bits of meat left on the carcass and the liver, I make a country paté. Finally, I brown the carcass in a hot oven, then boil it for an hour or so in water with an onion and bay leaf to make duck stock, which I then reduce for another couple hours to create demi glace, which like the fat, adds a layer of flavor to sauces and braises.

Our Szechuan friend, Guo Nan, would lament the fact that we weren’t using the tongues, a delicacy she once served us in her Szechuan hot pot. I guess I’m not as thoroughly resourceful as I claimed. I’ll leave that particular delight for the Chinese.

*   *   *

Minestrone alla milanese
serves 4-ish

2 quarts chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped swiss chard
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 Italian sausages
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 can red kidney beans
1/2 cup macaroni or other small dried pasta
1 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)

Remember, this recipe is perfect for over-the-hill vegetables. You could add broccoli, potatoes, spinach, zucchini… pretty much anything you’ve got. You could also make an excellent vegetarian version by leaving out the sausage and using water instead of chicken broth (you would need to add more salt in this case).

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausages and brown, then add garlic and onion and cook until translucent, stirring often. Add remaining vegetables, cover, turn heat to medium-low and cook for 1 hour.

Remove sausages and slice on a cutting board. Return to soup. Add beans and pasta, stir, cover and cook an additional 30 minutes — removing lid occasionally to stir.

Remove from heat, stir in remaining olive oil and grated parmesan. For a little spice, add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Serve to bowls with additional parmesan for sprinkling.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ben
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:37:26

    My favorite is tossing leftover angel hair with eggs and frying it into a pasta frittata.


  2. mom
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:50:09

    I hate waste too so maybe it’s genetic. I don’t remember haranguing you about it.
    Those greenish bags they’ve just invented to keep veggies fresh longer are amazing. My arugula lasts 2 weeks instead of 5 days,
    I bet Flynn won’t touch that minestrone. Too green.


    • scolgin
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:56:46

      Flynn’s actually coming around somewhat. Two of his favorite things are arugula salad with shaved parmesan and Caesar salad.


    • Greggie
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 05:15:26

      Glad to know that those bags work. I’ve seen them advertised on TV and may get some now. I hate that fruit and veggies go bad.


  3. Lori Koefoed
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:53:22

    Great ideas for the waste-adverse! My veggies that are past their prime usually end up in the soup pot, and I can get four meals out of a rotisserie chicken, but I hadn’t considered all the ways to resurrect a baguette…I usually make a bread pudding by soaking chunks in milk and butter (the French call this “pain perdu” or lost bread – we call it French toast). Can’t wait to try it in soup!


    • scolgin
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:57:53

      Make some of that gazpacho while the tomatoes are good! There’s tons of heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s markets right now at low prices! Enjoy!!!


  4. pedimanipause
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 16:59:17

    THIS was incredibly helpful. I had no idea wilted veggies could be reused. DOH


  5. Lisa Gaskin
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 22:39:10

    I had the same Mom…”the starving kids in….” It’s not genetic…it was training 😉

    Mom, by the way, can squeeze culinary water from a stone…maybe THAT’S genetic


  6. g
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 02:24:13

    I’m always coming home from work planning to make a soup or sauce from the limp and wilting vegetables I know are in the fridge, only to find out that Chris has thrown them out!!


  7. Pierotucci
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 08:50:58

    Maybe it should be pointed out that Tuscans rank up there with non wasters because they generally buy on a day to day bases, in the sense that they buy only what they know they will eat in the next 2 -3 days. ( I mean have you ever seen the size of their refrigerators!!) They don’t have the Costco or Walmart super saver packages.



    • scolgin
      Oct 19, 2011 @ 13:36:16

      That is a great point. I shop that way, too. (I still sometimes lose vegetables in the back of the fridge, though!) It takes a lot of preservatives to make that Costco food last!


  8. monica
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 17:24:07

    I too use our old bread for bread pudding, french toast casseroles or stuffings. We grill a lot so left over chicken or steak make for great fajitas the next day along with what ever veggies I feel are on their way out. And fried rice is also something that I do with lots of left overs. Great post Sean!


  9. nat the rat
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 19:26:55

    Really appreciate this post. totally with you on this. My grandmother reminded me of the ‘starving armenians’, and to throw food away is a sin. As you know, I’m more an eater than a cook, so I have another idea: You can hang in the kitchen after dinner and score food off peoples plates before it hits the trash! While working at as busboy, I met a career waiter named Jimmy who would eat his dinner of people’s leftovers every night at work. He ate it all. Of course, shrimp and good hunks of meat go without saying, but Jimmy would slurp down people’s soups and the remnants of a salad stuck to the plate. He did this for years. I did not appreciate the science of this approach at the time, but he was always pretty healthy and I wonder if all that good antigenic exposure didn’t keep his immune system cranking…


  10. Suzanna
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 20:38:47

    My wilted veggies & I thank you! One more option before the compost heap-o-guilt…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: