Stems, Scraps & Rinds: How To Be Deliciously Thrifty

broccoli-stemsSometimes kitchen “scraps” are actually the best part. Plenty of classic dishes are based on that “Waste not, want not!” mentality: French ratatouille, Spanish paella, wedges of Italian polenta served with garlicky white beans. Good thing there have always been thrifty cooks among us! Just goes to show that great flavor doesn’t have to have a big price tag attached to it.

Some thrifty-minded ideas take a little extra thought, like tossing unused veggie ends and bits into a freezer bag for a batch of homemade broth down the road. (When the bag gets full, dump the carrot ends and onion scraps and whatever else you’ve got into a pot, cover the veggies with water, and gently simmer everything for an hour. Strain out the liquid, discard the veggies, and voila! you have homemade broth. If you have any meat bones on hand, throw those in, too. Then you have stock.) Another save-it-for-later idea is to toss the rock-hard rind on a hunk of Parmesan into a bag. The next time you make soup, sauce, stew, or anything you want to thicken and intensify, add the rind to the pot and let it work its Parmesan-imbued umami magic.

But my favorite use of a commonly overlooked “scrap” is broccoli stems. They taste even better than artichoke hearts – but are much, much easier to get at than artichoke hearts – and have the bonus of being pleasantly crunchy, too. To enjoy the stems, first cut off the top where the trunk turns into bifurcating branches, then trim off the bottom 1/2″ or so. (If the broccoli is older, the stem may be very hard and woody at the bottom. Keep trimming the bottom until you hit a crisp, still-moist point.) Turn the stem right-side up so that one of the cut-off flat ends is resting on the cutting board. Trim away the sides of the stem, rotating the stem as you go so that you can easily trim all of the sides. You’ll see that the center is pale green; once you trim away the drier, woodier outer layer, you’ll have a slim stem that doesn’t show any marks of branches or leaves coming off of it.

You can cut the trimmed stems into pieces and cook them with the florets if you like, but I prefer to eat the stems raw. I like them even better than the flowery part!

Chili-Spiced Broccoli & Tomatoes

Toss chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced broccoli stems (see above paragraphs for instructions on preparing the stems) with extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of chili powder, and either a squirt of lime juice or a drizzle of red wine vinegar. You could add any other veggies you’d like to this, of course, or even add strips of cooked chicken and some crumbled soft goat cheese. Just be sure to try some of the broccoli stems all by themselves so that you’ll know what they taste like. Bet you can find plenty of other uses for the part of the broccoli you used to throw away!


Courtesy of Cultured Cook.

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