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Stalk to Stem: Cooking with the Whole Vegetable

Tasting Table

August 13, 2015

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With "nose-to-tail" flying around the culinary scene like a swarm of bees, it was only a matter of time until the ethos of full, purposeful utilization made its way into the world of vegetable scraps. In this series, Tasting Table talks to food experts who are treating former cast-offs like broccoli stems, potato peels, or cabbage cores as ingredients to be cherished.

Carol Blymire, the blogger behind French Laundry at Home and Alinea at Home and co-author of Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian, loves chard stems. Cooking her way through two of the most revered cookbooks of our time has given her an attention to detail that doesn't begin and end with fancy plating; instead, it extends to a holistic view of extracting flavor in as many ways as possible.

While produce scraps might seem foreign to some home cooks, Blymire looks at whole-vegetable cookery as just another way to employ familiar processes. "I think people probably don't pay attention to vegetable scraps because they require some thinking and planning—or at least, that's the perception," she says. To change that attitude, she advises "learning from others and tasting delicious things we otherwise wouldn't have known we could make." Here are her tips for keeping deliciousness from winding up in the trash.

Chard Stems

Blymire pickles chard stems in a combination of white vinegar, coconut vinegar and sugar, with celery and mustard seed for flavor. Bring the mixture to a boil, cool for twenty minutes, and pour over sliced chard stems. Packed in jars and refrigerated, the pickles will keep for about three months.

Radish Greens

Blymire likes to braise whole radishes with the leaves attached. Put a dozen radishes and their leaves in a Dutch oven, cover with vegetable or chicken stock, add sliced shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook (covered) over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. "The radishes are tender, and the leaves are still intact—and a little less peppery, which makes them a great side with roast chicken and green beans," she says.

Corn Cobs

"I use corn cob stock to make polenta, or to add to the water when I'm cooking beans. It's also great in vegetable soups or for root vegetable braises in the winter. Sometimes, I'll toss a bit of it into a stir-fry just to add a little different flavor," says Blymire. Break corn cobs in half and put them in a large pot, with enough water to cover the cobs by an inch or two. Bring to a boil, simmer for 45 minutes, remove the cobs, and strain the stock.

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This article originally appeared on Tasting Table, the official media partner of JBF Greens