carrots, JR Organics, Escondido FM

This happens all the time. We buy gorgeous beets or radishes or carrots at the farmers market, greens intact. We get back to the kitchen, lop off the greens and throw them into the trash can. After all, what we wanted was the root. Or we buy a whole fish, break it down for the fillet and toss the rest. Or we pass over slightly bruised tomatoes when all we’re going to do is make sauce. Or slightly over-the-hill fruit when we’re just going to bake with it.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away approximately $165 billion worth of food each year, and for the average American family, that can be up to $2,200 per household.

So much of what we toss or bypass is unnecessary–if we thought about creative ways to use it.

Phil Harris and black gill rockfish

For instance, you could buy a whole fish from your local fisherman and roast it whole. Or you could use not just the fillets, but also the collars and cheeks, where so much flavor resides. Never break down a fish before? Here’s how, in five steps:

Tommy slicing off head

  1. Grab a sharp knife or even a spoon and run it across the body against the scales to get rid of them. (You can skip this, but it’s not a big effort.)
  2. Using a flexible filet knife, cut down just below the fin till you reach the skeleton, then angle the knife parallel to the body and slice evenly down to the tail to create a filet. Put it aside to sauté, grill, or bake.
  3. Now you have the guts (give it to your dogs, throw it in the garden to fertilize your plants) and the carcass with the head. Cut off that triangular section just under the head and below the fins. That’s the collar. The meat is full of fat and flavor. Put it aside to bake, grill, or fry.
  4. Cut off the rest of the head and split it to open flat. Get rid of the gills. Grill or bake this to enjoy the oh so sweet cheek meat.
  5. What’s left is the carcass. Don’t toss it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice and put it on the grill or sauté it. Use a fork to scrape off the meat and enjoy. Or freeze the uncooked carcass to make fish stock.

Head, skeleton, collar

In fact, you can save the bones from a cooked chicken to roast and use for chicken stock. The same for meat bones, lobster and other seafood shells, and the trimmings from vegetables. Just put them in freezer bags and when you have enough to cook with you’ll create some very flavorful dishes. Use fresh greens from root vegetables in all sorts of dishes–from soups to stir fries. Your clients and Mother Earth will thank you.

turnip greens with potatoes2

Turnip greens with potatoes

Recently I went shopping with a local chef at one of the big Sunday San Diego farmers markets. While he was picking up orders at one stall, I found myself fixated on some gorgeous Easter Egg radishes. They were so plump and colorful I bought a big bunch of them. When I got them home I cut the stems off and, unlike your typical sad, wilted supermarket bunches, they were so fresh I couldn’t bear to toss them. I’d sautéed radish greens with garlic before so I knew how wonderfully peppery they are. But what to do with them now?

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I had to decide quickly. What you learn about radish greens is that they have a pretty short shelf life. I could make soup with them, make a stir fry, roast them, add them to pasta or an omelet, or make a salad with them.

Or, hmmm, make pesto. I had all the ingredients I needed, including a fresh bottle of herbaceous young olive oil from California Olive Ranch that would match the spicy radish leaves.

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The first thing you need to do with radish leaves is wash them. Thoroughly. As root vegetables, the greens are close to the ground and seem to attract dirt like spinach. I did several rounds in a salad spinner before I got the grit off to my satisfaction. Once washed and dried I gave them a rough chopping for the blender.

With that, it’s just a matter of grating your favorite hard cheese (I used Parmesan), toasting walnuts to bring out their flavor, and trimming some garlic cloves. You’ll want to add a touch of butter to round out the flavor, and some salt–but not much because of the saltiness of the cheese.

After that you’ll put everything but the oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor and gradually add in the oil until it reaches a smooth and creamy pourable consistency. Then you have the perfect sauce for pasta, salmon, roasted vegetables and all sorts of other dishes.

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Radish Greens Pesto
Yield: 2 cups

6 ounces radish leaves, with tough stems removed (save and snack on them or add to a stir fry)
1 cup walnuts, toasted
5 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
3/4 to 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil

After removing the tough stems, wash and dry the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, add the leaves, waln uts, garlic, cheese, butter, and salt. Put the lid on but leave the opening available to add the oil. Turn on the machine and slowly add the oil. Puree the contents until the mixture reaches a loose, creamy consistency. Periodically, stop and scrape down the sides to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can keep the pesto refrigerated for up to a week, although it’s best used right away. Be sure to pour some oil over the surface to keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you can freeze it.

Pesto and pasta

Are you careful about cutting food waste? What great dishes have resulted from this strategy?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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