It’s all too easy to throw away trimmings we think have nothing to offer or produce that has gone just beyond the point of perfection. But here’s the thing – once we kick this habit and begin to realise the potential of these odds and ends, we can find ourselves stopped in our tracks by the flavour and nutritional benefits we’ve been missing out on.
Take potato peelings, rarely saved during the frenzy of making mash. We shouldn’t always be so hasty. The skins are rich in fibre and are quickly rebooted into a moreish snack: all you need to do is pat them dry, coat in olive oil, shake over a little spice (if that’s your thing) and bake until crisp and impossible to resist.
The same principle applies to fruit. Citrus peelings (especially orange) are surprisingly easy to candy and unsurprisingly able to lift desserts to showier and more impressive heights. And oranges are not the only fruit with which this ritual of thrift rings true: marmalade, the age-old process that’s equal parts frustration, reward and clever use of the whole fruit, might be classically made with oranges but can also be a great way to make the most of grapefruit, lemons and limes.
There are less obvious uses for fruit scraps. Think of the trimmed strawberry tops, the last things you might look to as the heart of a refreshing drink. But when the really warm months arrive (and arrive they will) that’s precisely what a punnet’s worth of strawberry tops steeped in icy water can become. Muddle
in any sprigs of basil or mint you have (or rosemary and thyme, perfect if you want to help build a bridge between savoury and sweet) and you’ve designed a vehicle for sunny pleasure, an (almost) free ride straight to the sun.
And picture the big bunches of herbs that we haven’t found time or space to fit into our food. Really, there’s no reason we should ever not take full advantage of the colour and vibrancy they have to offer. An excess of fresh herbs can be whipped into freezable butters (laced with roasted garlic, lemon or the welcome warmth of chilli), ready to inject flavour into dishes of the future. The picked stalks of parsley are ideal for stocks, finely chopped coriander stems every bit as good as the leaves. There are herb sugars and salts, great when the odd sprig of rosemary or handful of mint is lying around. They are only a short spell in a mortar and pestle away, and not just thrift for thrift’s sake. Take this mint sugar, where five mint leaves and one tablespoon of sugar turn a mango salad from pleasant to memorable.
Food waste isn’t limited to scraps; it includes produce we might think we’ve squeezed all the goodness from. One such ingredient is parmesan which, we’ll be honest, isn’t something we ever struggle to enjoy to the fullest; a wedge disappears pretty swiftly at FOOD Towers. (Our philosophy with parmesan is that it’s best to grate in a bit more, just to be sure.) But often left unused are the cheese rinds, little bombs of flavour that can be thrown into stock for risotto (rinds freeze really well, so accumulate a big batch for a seriously intense cheesy stock) or cut into cubes that bob happily in a vegetable-laden broth.
Then there are ingredients that cause us to feel a tinge of guilt each time we throw them away: the avocado half not eaten at breakfast that could be rubbed with olive oil or lemon so the exposed flesh stays green until lunch or dinner; the shallot half not called for in a recipe that won’t find its way into some other dish, some other time. The used vanilla pods that we could continue to treasure if they were left to infuse sugar and the chicken carcasses that could be transformed into stock if savvy motivation was always there to drive us on.
All this barely scratches the surface of what can be done with produce we’ve become accustomed to seeing go to waste. Putting these bits and pieces to use doesn’t just make sense economically – it’s also a means of making our food more creative and more rewarding, and it’s right there at our fingertips.