By NANCY MATSUMOTO
Eating animals from snout to tail, including everything in between, has become a point of pride among a certain set of adventurous eater. Frugal and environmentally sound, such cooking burnishes the street cred of chef and eater alike.
But during the summer, when green markets are bursting with a glut of produce, it is a more gentle pursuit—top-to-tail vegetable and fruit cooking—that challenges the imagination of some chefs.
Zak Pelaccio of Fatty 'Cue and Fatty Crab tosses radish tops into his kimchi blends and whizzes less-than-pristine lettuce leaves into purees or pestos to add color and body. Or, he says, "We'll take lettuce leaves that aren't crispy, braise them to get a uniform texture, then serve them with smoked chopped clams, white-wine vinegar and clam juice."
Beet greens alone could form a whole chapter in a chef's waste-no-produce cookbook. Dan Kluger, chef at Union Square's ABC Kitchen, incorporates them into a stuffing for fresh zucchini blossoms. At Telepan on the Upper West Side, Bill Telepan uses the greens in pierogis, while East Village chef Marco Canora of Hearth blanches the greens, squeezes them dry, and mixes them with ricotta, Parmesan and nutmeg to make malfatti, a kind of messy ravioli.
While wasting nothing has always been part of the cook's credo, today there are added incentives for adopting a whole-deal approach to vegetable and fruit preparation. One is the increased availability of just-harvested farmer's market produce, the secondary edible portions of which are still fresh enough to eat. Another is a strapped economy, in which squeezing more servings from a green-market order can fortify a restaurant's bottom line. The thoughtful farm-to-table chef also knows that every scrap of food thrown away turns into methane, more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, and that global food insecurity is on the rise. For some, not wasting food is a pressing moral imperative.
Brooklyn Grange urban rooftop farmer Ben Flanner says he feels a kinship with his chef customers who are highly creative in their ability to use every last peel of produce. One of them, Kevin Adey of the Bushwick, Brooklyn, restaurant Northeast Kingdom, serves a pesto made of Brooklyn Grange carrot tops, the part that most people throw away.
Mr. Adey notes that a 10-pound crate of carrots from Brooklyn Grange yields only seven pounds of carrots. "I don't really have the luxury of charging for only the carrot portion," he says, explaining that when the carrots are just picked, the tops lack the bitterness that can creep in with age.
When Mr. Adey sells beet greens in the form of a gratin, the dish might bring in an added $50 to $80 in a night.
"I'll use that to offset what it costs to put steak on the plate," he says.
Pickling is another favorite way to conserve vegetal odds and ends. "Everybody pickles ramps at the point in the season where you have too many, and the greens wilt," Mr. Telepan said. "We use the pickles for burgers at lunch, or for cocktails, instead of onions for gimlets."
Both chefs Tom Kearney at the Farm on Adderley in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, and Jason Wood, at Tavern restaurant in upstate Garrison, like to make corn stock from stripped corn cobs. Mr. Kearney adds butter, lemon grass, shallots and fennel to the stock to make a base for soups and chowder, or reduces it down to a fragrant broth that ties together a dish of corn, fennel, potato and fluke. Mr. Wood, meanwhile, suggests making stock with the long stalks and fronds of fennel, as well as the hard outer layers of the bulb. He adds halved lemons, black peppercorns and a bit of bacon, then poaches shrimp in the stock, which he might serve as a banquet appetizer or over grits.
Overripe tomatoes, another byproduct of summer bumper crops, are delicious pureed, passed through a sieve, and turned into tomato water, said Mr. Kearney. He adds a little raspberry- or red-wine vinegar and salt to make a pink-hued base for ricotta-stuffed and lightly deep-fried zucchini blossoms.
Then there are drinks: Mr. Telepan combines macerated, past-their prime blackberries with sugar, water and squeezed lemon halves, lets the mixture sit at room temperature for 24 hours, then purees and strains them to make a summer fruit fizz. Mr. Kearney purees leftover scraps of watermelon with lemon juice and honey to make an aqua fresca he serves at the restaurant's concession at the Prospect Park Bandshell.
For these chefs, who work closely with farmers, forage for their own wild edibles, or in Mr. Wood's case, pick produce from the restaurant's onsite farm, conserving is a way of life. "When that much care is involved in growing produce," said Mr. Wood, "You don't want to waste a thing."