Eating Garbage

Every other year or so we try to connect tour schedules and apartment swaps to check in with Mr. Crump’s family in Paris for a week. On one of these trips a few years back, I was browsing around the fish section at the Monoprix when I saw something unfamiliar. The display was fresh and attractive, and featured something that looked like the white rounds we know as scallops, nestled in their fan-shaped shell. But here alongside each circle was a much bigger, brilliant orange slab of sea-flesh. The little sign read “Coquilles Saint-Jacques.” Needless to say, we bought some and cooked them for dinner, in the broiler I think, exotic extra bit and all.

Back home in Brooklyn at our local farmers market, I held up the long line at the fish stall to inquire about the perfectly tasty orange bit, and why I had never seen it before. From what I remember now, the response I received was something to the effect of explaining that the shells are typically opened and cleaned on the boat, with the orange part – identified just now on Wikipedia as “coral,” or roe – thrown back into the ocean. Only the white abductor muscle (sounds less appealing like that, huh?) is available for sale. Ahh, American efficiency at work.

Once you start looking for it, it’s astounding to see how many parts of the food we toss away are fully, even delightfully, edible. This is not even to get into the conscious waste of produce and meat that has wilted in our fridges or been left on our plates – the vast quantity of which alone heartily counters the myth that this planet cannot feed itself. I’m talking just about the food that we are culturally unaccustomed to seeing as food.

I’ll sauté any greens usually attached to a root – beet, radish, etc. — with onions and/or garlic in olive oil, but had decided that carrot tops were the nasty exception until Mr. Crump pointed out my error. These days, thanks to his urging, I drink a cool green smoothie featuring carrot greens, spinach, kale, ginger root, and flax oil sweetened with banana, frozen mango and apple – and I haven’t had a cold in years. The carrot tops are enormously healthy, and cheap enough to be thrown away by the ton – imagine if we all ate this tasty and attractive garbage instead of — or heck, alongside — potato chips?

And yes, there is the good eating that can be done with stuff that’s past its prime. Bread that has gone somewhat stale and hard? That’s how fondue was invented, in the scrappy mountains of Switzerland. Stale bread + moldy cheese = food party central. Or chop the bread up in a food processor for breadcrumbs; season and use for veggie burgers, meatballs, or breading fish fillets. (I’ve also used the crumbled remnants at the bottom of a tortilla chip bag for the latter.) Wilted greens? Soak them in cool water for a spell and watch them freshen up, or sauté them in olive oil with fried eggs for a satisfying, no-carb breakfast or lunch; or alternatively cook them in broth with chopped onions, sweet potatoes or apple peels and herbs, then puree them for a sophisticated soup. And so on.

It’s been a bitterly cold week, and I’ve procrastinated dragging my boys to the grocery store (no way I would use my none-too-plentiful work hours during their school day to go without them) so we’ve been excavating the forlorn corners of our fridge for dinner. I have burned through almost all of our vegetables, but did have a bag with some broccoli stalks, the flower tops already removed for another meal. I’ve grated the stalks before for slaw with unremarkable results, but when it comes down to it, extra virgin olive oil in a hot cast iron skillet is my specialty. I peeled off the tough outer layer, sliced the stalks and some garlic cloves to a satisfying thinness, and sautéed them for just under 10 minutes, seasoned rather randomly with tarragon, turmeric, and adobo. They browned up temptingly, had a slightly crisp – slightly soft texture, and tasted great.

I’m excited for the next time. Now whether I can convince Maceo to try is another story..

 

Join me in the making of my new album, Reckoning
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jenchapin

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