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.
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.
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.
Here are three recipes she came up with:
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!
- 2-3 cups croutons
- ½ cup duck or chicken fat* (can use from leftover roasted duck or chicken)
- Heat oven to 325 degrees.
- 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.
- Melt about ½ cup fat and toss with croutons until well-coated. Toast on a sheet pan for 15 minutes.
- 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!
Apple Vinegar Dressing
- Peels from 6 organic apples
- 1 qt apple cider vinegar
- 2 T. sugar
- ½ cup walnut oil
- Place peels in jar or vacuum bag and cover with sugar and vinegar. Let sit 1-2 weeks.
- 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.
- 2-3 heads of cauliflower
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- pinch of sugar
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat grill.
- Remove all leaves from cauliflower heads. Lightly oil, salt & pepper with a pinch of sugar. Roast for 7-8 min. in 350 degree oven.
- Let cool.
- 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.
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.
Make two weeks ahead
- 12 Roma tomatoes
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 T. salt
- 4 garlic cloves
- Cut tomatoes in half and lightly salt on a sheet pan; cut sides up. Roast in 200 degree oven 6 hours.
- 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.
- You can eat some of your Roma tomatoes now, and save some for this salad by keeping under the oil in the fridge.
- Cores from 3 heads of cauliflower
- 1 T. Italian spices (include cayenne!)
- 1 T. oil
- Slice each core into 3/8” pieces. Be sure to slice so the core holds into one slice.
- Rub each piece with oil and spices. Let sit for at least one hour.
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1 cup cornstarch
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups very cold soda water
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
In small mixer, blend the softened cream cheese and feta. Add the rest of the ingredients until incorporated.
Build your dish!
- Mix 2 T. caper juice with ½ cup tomato oil.
- Fry the cauliflower
- Fill frying pan with at least 1” of oil. Bring to 350 degrees.
- 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.
Added Bonus: Homemade Orange Cleaner
- Before slicing oranges for the kiddos, wash and peel your oranges to make a nice homemade cleaner!
- 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.
- Strain and dilute with half as much water as vinegar. Place in spray bottle and get to cleaning!
- You can also use the vinegar peels as a garbage disposal freshener!
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.
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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