Sunday, 18 May 2008

Eats Stalks and Leaves

This is the bunch of beets I bought at the farmers' market yesterday. Beautiful isn't it? And a few months ago I'm ashamed to say I would probably have thrown two thirds of it - the leaves and stalks - away.

Now I know better. I roasted three of the beets for salads. I saved one which I shaved raw onto a pizza base smothered with soft goats cheese and topped with finely cut fennel (more about the virtues of wafer thin slicing to come . . .)

I cut off the beet leaves, washed them, tore them off their stems and wilted them in a pan with the water that was still clinging to the leaves, drained them and tossed them in a little oil and soy sauce. Fabulous. Even better than spinach. And the stalks are still sitting in the fridge waiting to be turned into . . . what? I'm not sure because they'll turn anything they come in contact with magenta pink. A stir fry? A soup? Probably the former.

I also made a gratin from the stems of the chard I bought on Friday which I couldn't quite bring myself to throw away. I had some recollection that's what the French do - use the leaves as a vegetable or in a paté and save the stalks for a gratin.

I chopped up an onion, softened it in a little oil and butter, chucked in a few thyme leaves, added the chopped chard and cooked it for 2 or 3 minutes. Then I stirred in a spoonful of flour, added about 150ml of milk, brought it to the boil and waited until the sauce thickened. Finally I stirred in a spoonful of crème fraiche (not strictly necessary but it was almost at its use-by date) and about 25g of grated Grana Padano, tipped the whole lot in an ovenproof dish, grated over some more cheese and flashed it under the grill. Again, it worked out really well. I took the remains down to the neighbours downstairs to stop us scoffing the lot.

It made me think how much we needlessly throw away. Parsley and coriander stalks, for instance can be used to flavour any recipe for which their leaves are a garnish. Spinach and watercress stalks can be sweated off along with their leaves for soup. Why chuck them? They taste great and once you've bought the basic ingredient they're free.

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