I always get startled when grocers ask me if I want them to take off the greens on a bunch of carrots. A few times, they even asked me if they should cut some of the green off the end of a bunch of leeks. I mean, I know it’s edible. So I feel I should eat that (or at least feed it to rabbits or hens). I feel the same once I’ve cut the florets off a head of broccoli or cauliflower. I can’t just throw that away, can I?
My husband always scolds me with sentences beginning with “If we were at war and … would you…” when I shy away from whatever unpleasant thing he wants me to do, to which I reply “Honey, if we were at war, I would sell my body to make sure the children get enough food, but until that is the case, I’d rather avoid it.”.
Still, food shortage or not, I can’t throw away food with a good conscience, so I have to come up with ways of eating (some of) the things we usually discard, or find ways of turning “old” stuff into something edible. What we call French toast, for example, is called “pain perdu” in French – lost bread, and is simply a way of eating day-old/stale bread, just like bread-and-butter-pudding in Ireland.
A good place to turn to find out what is edible and what’s compost is old cookbooks and the kind of grandmothers’ wisdom that comes from our (great-) grandmothers… having experienced war and the hardship and food rationing that came with it. I won’t go as far as collecting the bread crumbs from the dinner table to make stuffing or chapelure, but when I roll out pizza dough and am left with a little heap of flour on the counter, I don’t quite know what to do: Bin it? Put it back in the container? (What about contamination?) Put it in a different container and use the next day?
You may have read on the Internet that France has passed a law obliging supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities, like Les Restos du Coeur. This is obviously a positive move to reduce food waste (the numbers are staggering!), but charity officials insist on the need to provide quality food to food banks, not using them as dumps. No-one wants to risk bacterial intoxication. On the other hand, supermarkets feel they have been singled out on the waste issue despite the bigger proportion of food being thrown out by families. That may be so, but I find pouring bleach over unsold produce to make it unfit for consumption scandalous, yet this is common practice for most supermarkets – they even say so on their dumpsters.
As usual, change starts at home.
Saturday, I bought radishes because the kids love them, carrots because I wanted to roast some with honey and ginger, and broccoli because I hadn’t made Ottoleghi’s char-grilled broccoli with garlic, lemon and chili for too long. What to do with the scraps?
I have made soup with both carrot and radish leaves before. I also cooked radish leaves like I do spinach leaves, that is to say “en tombée” – tossed into a hot frying pan with a couple of sliced cloves of garlic until they are just wilted – salt, pepper, voilà.
I wanted to try something else.
I had a ready-to-roll puff pastry in the fridge, some feta, eggs… It was going to be quiche.
Once again, I don’t usually cook with recipes, and once you understand what makes a quiche, you can make a hundred quiches. If you want to make it fancier, you can always call it a “tarte salée“. Same same.
You need a pastry base (you have different options), some filling (endless options), some seasoning and some sort of “glue” to keep it all together (or, in fact, not), which usually means egg and milk/cream/yoghurt/goat’s cheese, etc.
What I had:
- Puff pastry (pure butter)
- two broccoli stems
- Radish greens
- Carrot greens
- Baby spinach
What I did:
- Washed all the greens and put them through in the salad spinner
- Sliced a large onion and three cloves of garlic and sweated them in a hot frying pan with a little olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper
- Pricked the pastry base with a fork and spread the onions on it
- Chopped the broccoli stems into 5mm cubes, removing the “ugly” bits
- Tossed them in the frying pan, adding a little water to soften them > seasoning
- Roughly chopped the carrot greens, radish greens and spinach > frying pan > pastry base
- Crumbled half a block of feta over the greens
- Combined 3 eggs, a scrape of nutmeg, salt and pepper, a drop of liquid cream and a bit of milk
- Poured it over the greens
- Pie in the oven
- Baked it at 190˚C until it looked right.
The carrot greens give off an interesting smell my brain had trouble understanding: it smells “green”, yet carrotty, and the taste is both of that with a nutty flavour, like fresh hazelnuts. To bring out the nutty flavour more, I think I might add some roasted pine nuts next time.
I read things about the texture of the carrot tops being stringy (it was actually tender). I think it was a good idea to take off the thick stalks and chopping the greens, though. Unlike the other greens, they blackened a little in the pan (lower water content, I suppose), so next time I will lower the heat a bit.
The radish greens tasted like spinach. Thank Goodness they’re not prickly once their cooked. (I hate touching them when raw.)
Nowadays, there seems to be renewed interest in “forgotten” vegetables, for taste reasons and in an attempt to preserve biodiversity. Many star chefs in France make a big deal out of dishes involving Chinese artichokes, parsley root, rutabaga, Jerusalem artichokes… in fact, the current kale fad comes from this kind of revival! It’s all good to me.
You can read up on what you can eat and how on the Gerbeaud website (in French). This is a great ressource with lists of what part of any vegetable you can eat, what wild plants you can forage over the 4 seasons, and also includes a list of toxic plants or plant parts to avoid. Alternatively, Emily Ho gives radish greens recipes on her blog The Kitchn (in English), or go check out this fabulous-sounding recipe for carrot-top pesto by cookbook author Diane Morgan on the Culinate site (who test-cooked it and were “bowled over” by it!).
Once of my next quests is to find someone who can take me through our local countryside and show me what wild plants are edible. Also, I really want to find a shot where wild garlic grows, so I can make my Mum’s pesto à l’ail de l’ours. I’ll pass it on when I find some.