Root-to-stalk cooking is a culinary trend again

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There's an ongoing evolution of our food system where restaurants and consumers are circling back to when nothing was wasted. They are buying produce that's locally grown, that often comes with shoots and roots, as compared to the neatly trimmed and packaged produce seen in most grocery stores.

Chefs often develop recipes to use every part of a product that's delivered to them. Receiving a whole animal means every part from head to tail is used. The same principle is applied to fruits and vegetables and is known as root-to-stalk cooking.

In an effort to let nothing go to waste, onions, celery and carrot scraps are added to vats of bone broth that's cooked overnight (stocks, of course, beginning with bones saved from a different recipe). Using every inch of an ingredient is vital to maintaining low food cost, which means more money in the bank, or at least more money to spend on new equipment.

Today, many restaurants are embracing root-to-stalk cooking for a number of reasons that go beyond the economical benefits. Cooking the tops of carrots or the leaves of celery makes for tasty salads, soups, pesto and even complex dishes. Take, for instance, Dan Barber from Blue Hill in New York; he created a cheeseburger from beets and beans. This was conceptualized for his community-based project WastED, which brings together chefs such as Mario Batali and Alain Ducasse, farmers, distributors and a host of contributors to rethink waste along the food chain.

Chef Barber is one of many culinary artists who are reconceiving waste.

Here are some ways to embrace root-to-stalk cooking:

  • Leafy tops from carrots, beets and turnips can be used to make a flavor-packed pesto that can be tossed with pasta or vegetables
  • Broccoli stalks can be added to a stir-fry, grated to be used in a lasagna filling, or as a replacement for chickpeas in hummus
  • Celery leaves make a wonderful salad add-in or garnish for a dish
  • Cauliflower leaves can be dried to make chips or sautéed in a bit of olive oil for a side dish
  • Use the peel of citrus fruits for a candied application
  • Fennel fronds are a great addition to roasted meats and fish
  • Tomato powder can be made by dehydrating and pulverizing the skins and then using the powder in an Italian seasoning blend
  • Cabbage and lettuce leaves that come from the outer part can be thinly sliced and cooked with olive oil or added to stir-fry
  • Don't throw away overripe fruits! Berries can be used to make vinegars, and overripe bananas are perfect for a quick bread
  • Scraps of various vegetables and fruits can be combined with sugar and vinegar to make chutneys

Want to make the most of your fruits and vegetable at home? Check out Tara Duggan's cookbook "Root-to-Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable" or Steven Satterfield's "Root to Leaf."

There are endless possibilities when it comes to root-to-stalk cooking. It's probably time to get down to a farmer's market or a local garden for fresh ingredients to try.

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