Throwing away food that can be used or composted is a real problem in Nashville.

Consider these facts: It is estimated that 25% of the contents of our landfill is food waste. In fact, 40% of all food produced in this country ends up at the dump.

Given that we’re quickly running out of space in our landfills, reducing the amount of food we waste seems like a really smart thing to do. Add to that all of the water, energy, chemicals, labor and other resources that are wasted producing food that’s thrown away, and the greenhouse gases produced by food decaying in landfills, and you have to ask yourself, What can I do about all that?

Inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal that featured Chef Kathie Buttons of Curate in Asheville about her ideas on how to re-purpose food, I called my buddy, Chef Deb Paquette with Etch and Etc, to inspire us with a few of her ideas on how to use food that is typically thrown away. I knew she would jump at the chance since she is a member of the Nashville Food Waste Initiative, as am I.

With all of the recent growth in Nashville, our city was picked by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to be a pilot city to develop best practices on how a community can work together to reduce food waste. Fifty-five restaurants said “ yes” to Mayor Megan Barry’s invitation to join the Mayor’s Food Waste Challenge. If anyone can lead our city in making better use of our food, it’s our restaurants! And you couldn’t ask for a more inspiring leader than Deb Paquette.

Never one to mince words, I asked Deb why she cares about food waste, to which she replied, “The pyramid of voice. The more people I inform about what we are doing to help slow down waste, the more people they tell, and it keeps on going. Talk will focus us on action! This is where my passion is as I am a vehicle of representation and encouragement to spread the word to not only my peers and friends but also to a person sitting on a park bench.”

In the kitchen, Deb is Nashville’s whirling dervish of food. Each of her recipes reflects the passion and creativity she brings to her job. I saw it the day we met as she chopped, seasoned, tweaked and put the final finishes on the two salads she made for us.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Throwing away shrimp shells is a “no-no.” Rich in flavor, they will add depth to fish stock and can be dehydrated and pureed to make shrimp dust.

When I say that almost every ingredient she used would typically end up in the garbage, it’s true. Everything from orange peels to used shrimp shells have a purpose. Throw in the outer leaves of a cauliflower, old bread and some roasted veggies, and you have a lovely panzanella.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Deb in the kitchen at Etch, better known as command central for the anti-food waste movement.

Here are three recipes she came up with:

German Panzanella

Ingredients: grilled cauliflower cores, roasted cauliflower leaves, pumpernickel crust croutons, duck or chicken fat*, apple skin vinegar, walnut oil, leftover ham, celery hearts

To serve: In large salad bowl, toss the cores, celery hearts, cauliflower leaves and croutons until all ingredients are well-coated. Top with ham and maybe some arugula from your garden for color and flavor!

Croutons

  • 2-3 cups croutons
  • ½ cup duck or chicken fat* (can use from leftover roasted duck or chicken)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Stock up on the end pieces of pumpernickel or rye bread loaves and freeze for croutons. Use 6 “butts” of the loaves and cut into ¾” square croutons.
  3. Melt about ½ cup fat and toss with croutons until well-coated. Toast on a sheet pan for 15 minutes.
  4. Halfway through, stir croutons so they evenly cook. Cool completely.

*Fat can be taken from the bottom of a roasted chicken or duck pan, or the fat that accumulates at the top of your homemade chicken soup. Rendered chicken or duck skins are the best!

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Bread is often pitched when it dries out. Throw the butts in the freezer and use them for croutons.

Apple Vinegar Dressing

  • Peels from 6 organic apples
  • 1 qt apple cider vinegar
  • 2 T. sugar
  • ½ cup walnut oil

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Place peels in jar or vacuum bag and cover with sugar and vinegar. Let sit 1-2 weeks.
  2. Strain when needed and keep excess in the fridge. When you’re ready to prepare the salad, mix ½ cup walnut oil with 2-3 T. of the homemade vinegar for your dressing.

Cauliflower

  • 2-3 heads of cauliflower
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • pinch of sugar

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat grill.
  2. Remove all leaves from cauliflower heads. Lightly oil, salt & pepper with a pinch of sugar. Roast for 7-8 min. in 350 degree oven.
  3. Let cool.
  4. Cut cores from cauliflower heads into fourths. Lightly oil, salt & pepper. Sear over grill until the texture is softened and has nice grill marks. (Keep slightly crunchy, though!)

Ham and Celery

If you have leftover ham from a holiday in your freezer, take about 6 oz and shred or dice. Or, use sandwich ham!

Slice the nice light-green inners (hearts) of one bunch of celery – about 4-5 oz.

What to do with the leftover holiday ham? Freeze and save it for a rainy day German Panzanella or throw it at your husband when you get mad.

What to do with the leftover holiday ham? Freeze and save it for a rainy day German Panzanella or throw it at your husband when you get mad.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Herbs of any kind should never be tossed. They add so much flavor to salads, soups and stock. If they aren’t pretty, don’t worry as the flavor only intensifies.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Simply gorgeous! The German panzanella is flavorful with the crispy croutons baked in duck fat, celery, herbs and ham.

Italian Cauliflower

Ingredients: tempura cauliflower, feta cream, tomato oil, fennel pesto and fennel fronds

To serve: On small dish, smear the fennel pesto. Place fried cauliflower on plate, topping with a dollop of feta cream over the cauliflower pieces. Dress with 1-2 T. of the tomato oil/caper juice mix. Garnish with roasted tomatoes, fresh springs of fronds and capers.

Tomato Oil

Make two weeks ahead

  • 12 Roma tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 T. salt
  • 4 garlic cloves

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut tomatoes in half and lightly salt on a sheet pan; cut sides up. Roast in 200 degree oven 6 hours.
  2. When finished, place peelings in 1 cup oil: ½ olive oil, ½ vegetable oil. Put peelings, oil and garlic cloves in canning jar or vacuum bag and set in fridge for two weeks.
  3. You can eat some of your Roma tomatoes now, and save some for this salad by keeping under the oil in the fridge.

If you hang out in Deb’s kitchen, you gotta use your hands.

Cauliflower

  • Cores from 3 heads of cauliflower
  • 1 T. Italian spices (include cayenne!)
  • 1 T. oil

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Slice each core into 3/8” pieces. Be sure to slice so the core holds into one slice.
  2. Rub each piece with oil and spices. Let sit for at least one hour.

Tempura Mix

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups very cold soda water

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients, then add soda water. Do not stir or whip – you do not want to over mix or you will not get a crispy product. Slowly work flour and water with gentle movements of your hand. Substance should be a bit thinner than pancake batter.

Fennel Pesto

  • 4 fronds from the fennel bulb (rinsed, dried and chopped)
  • 4 oz sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt

Place all ingredients in blender and blitz until fronds are broken up and incorporated. You can add Parmesan cheese if you’d like!

Feta Cream

  • ½ cup cream cheese
  • 10 oz feta cheese
  • ½ lb raw cauliflower bud scraps
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • pinch of black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

In small mixer, blend the softened cream cheese and feta. Add the rest of the ingredients until incorporated.

Build your dish!

  1. Mix 2 T. caper juice with ½ cup tomato oil.
  2. Fry the cauliflower
  3. Fill frying pan with at least 1” of oil. Bring to 350 degrees.
  4. Dust cauliflower cores with flour. Dip in tempura, let excess drip, and slowly lower into oil. Brown evenly, turning cauliflower over, and drain on paper towels.
Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Don’t even think about throwing away the outer cauliflower leaves. They add a ton of flavor and have a distinctive crunch.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

One of Deb’s most beloved appetizers is her roasted cauliflower with pea pesto, so we knew she had a ton of cauliflower ready to be re-purposed in her kitchen.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

The end result is beautiful. For those of you who are afraid to make tempura, Deb’s recipe is so simple.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

There are lots of secrets in this dish for the creative chef. Don’t forget to use the fennel fronds and edible flowers to garnish your dishes. Capers have always been a wonder ingredient as they add dimension and depth to most dishes.

Added Bonus:  Homemade Orange Cleaner

  1. Before slicing oranges for the kiddos, wash and peel your oranges to make a nice homemade cleaner!
  2. Fill mason jar ¾ full with orange peels and top off with white vinegar (make sure vinegar covers the peels). Keep covered and store for at least 2 weeks.
  3. Strain and dilute with half as much water as vinegar. Place in spray bottle and get to cleaning!
  4. You can also use the vinegar peels as a garbage disposal freshener!
Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

I have already made this organic cleaner — it is wonder in a bottle as it smells divine and cleans almost any surface.

Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

Deb suggests that you use apple cider vinegar for most recipes and this cleaner.

I hope that we have motivated you to look differently at how you buy food at the grocery store, order food in restaurants and then, consider what you are throwing away as it may be used in a soup or sauce. Maybe hold onto that apple that isn’t pretty anymore, and use it to make applesauce. Or compost it.

I want to leave you with some other stats to consider:

  • The value of wasted food in the United States each year is $218 billion.
  • The average person wastes 24 pounds of food per month.
  • If we reduced our food waste by 30% and redistributed that food effectively to the needy, we could feed 48 million Americans every day of the year.
Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste: Three Recipes from Deb Paquette

A special thanks to Chef Deb Paquette for inspiring us to reduce food waste and get creative in the kitchen.

Deb is only one of the many women in the kitchen in Nashville. Read about more here

A special thank you to Grannis Photography for the amazing photographs.

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