Book report: Peelings, corncobs and stalks — for dinner

Creative recipes will lure in even the most wasteful

The Washington PostSeptember 26, 2013 

Raccoons and composters could become mighty grumpy, depending on how much buzz is generated about Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable (Ten Speed Press, 2013; $22, 65 recipes). San Francisco Chronicle food writer Tara Duggan has one-upped other kitchen-scraps cookbooks with ideas that will intrigue even the most wasteful among us.

The timing seems right to learn that carrot-top greens sub nicely for the parsley in tabbouleh. The tough, dark-green parts of leeks work well in stir-fries and in pot sticker filling. Fennel stalks — produce weight you pay for and seldom employ — offer a twofer: an infused simple syrup that takes less than 10 minutes to make and thin, chewy slices of candied fennel that could be the antidote to the ho-hum dried cranberries strewn in salads. Apple peels, along with a few cloves, a stick of cinnamon and a week's time, may turn you into a craft bourboneer.

Two thumbs up for the scrap storage information included at the end of most recipes. However, it left me wishing that the data had been compiled in a chart at the back of the book for future at-a-glance reference.

No matter; the book is of modest size and compelling enough to navigate stress-free. Neither will you have to worry about guilt tripping. The usual statistics about what's at stake, waste-wise, are in the introduction, yet the author's take remains realistic. "Preventing herbs from turning to sludge in your refrigerator drawer will not end world hunger," she writes, "but it can save you a dollar or two each time ... and it will contribute overall to reducing food waste."

Recipes

Potato skin-bacon fat chips

Skin peelings from 4 medium russet potatoes (with a thin layer of flesh)

2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat, liquefied and warm (may substitute olive oil, which does not have to be warm)

1 to 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 teaspoon teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (may substitute 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme)

Place large rimmed baking sheet in oven; preheat to 400 degrees. Line serving plate with a few layers of paper towels.

Place peelings in a mixing bowl. Drizzle bacon fat over them and toss to coat.

Combine sugar to taste, salt, paprika, pepper and thyme to taste in small bowl. Sprinkle half the mixture over peelings and toss to coat. Spread peelings on hot baking sheet in a single layer, skin side down. Sprinkle with remaining spice mixture; roast about 12 minutes, until skins start to get crisp and brown. Use a spatula to stir them to promote even crisping, then roast for 3 to 6 minutes.

Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Serve right away. Makes 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 90 calories, 1 g. protein, 6 g. carbohydrates, 7 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 250 mg. sodium, 1 g. dietary fiber, 1 g. sugar

This savory bread pudding calls for the greens from one bunch of beets. We tested it with the optional 1 cup of cooked, crumbled sausage. But you can leave it out to make the dish vegetarian.

Beet greens strata

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish

Greens from 1 bunch beets, washed (see note)

1/2 cup finely minced onion, leek or scallions (for the latter, use white and light-green parts)

Water

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup whole or low-fat milk

3 large eggs

3 cups walnut bread, artisan whole-wheat bread or country bread, preferably day-old or stale, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup cooked, crumbled sausage (of your choice; optional)

1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Use a little oil to grease an 8-inch square baking dish or a casserole of equivalent volume (about 6 cups).

Cut beet leaves from coarse stems. Cut stems crosswise into 1/2-inch slices and cut leaves into 1/2-inch ribbons. You should have at least 1 cup sliced stems and 4 cups sliced leaves.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once oil shimmers, add onion and beet stems; cook about 4 minutes, stirring often, until stems are barely tender. Add leaves a few handfuls at a time; cook until they have all wilted. Add a splash of water, cover skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. The stems should be tender. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk together milk, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grindings of pepper in a liquid measuring cup to form a smooth custard.

Add bread cubes, sausage, if using, and half the cheese to onion-beet greens mixture. Toss gently to incorporate, then transfer mixture to baking dish. Slowly, pour custard evenly over top, nestling in any errant bread cubes so they are able to soak up custard. Scatter remaining cheese evenly over top. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

To bake, transfer strata to a countertop, unwrap it and let it come close to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until custard is set and strata is bubbly; you should not be able to see any liquid when you press gently. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Be sure to soak beet greens in a large bowl of water, gently swishing them at the start to dislodge any grit.

Nutrition information per serving (using low-fat milk): 310 calories, 20 g. protein, 22 g. carbohydrates, 16 g. fat, 195 mg. cholesterol, 480 mg. sodium, 4 g. dietary fiber, 3 g. sugar.

Shaved broccoli stalk salad with lime and cotija

Leaves and thick stalks from 1 bunch broccoli, stalks cut into batons (about 3 stalks or 10 to 12 ounces; see note)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

11/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) crumbled cotija cheese (may substitute feta)

Place broccoli stalk batons on cutting board. Use a vegetable peeler to shave them into paper-thin strips, transferring them to a serving bowl.

Tear any large leaves into bite-size pieces; add leaves to bowl, along with oil and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste; toss to coat evenly, then gently fold in cheese.

Serve right away. Makes 2 servings.

Note: To make broccoli batons, remove stalks at base of florets, then trim off tough exterior of stalks. Trim each stalk, rolling it on a flat side, to form long, rectangular piece.

Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 8 g. protein, 8 g. carbohydrates, 11 g. fat, 10 mg. cholesterol, 370 mg. sodium, 0 g. dietary fiber, 0 g. sugar.

All recipes adapted from Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable

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