Cooking

Stems and Shells

Ideas in Food's best advice for cooking the whole vegetable
Don't toss those mushroom stems | Photo: Katie Foster/Tasting Table
How to Cook Mushroom Stems

With "nose-to-tail" flying around the culinary scene like a swarm of bees, it was only a matter of time until the ethos of full, purposeful utilization made its way into the world of vegetable scraps. In this series, we talk to chefs who are treating former castoffs like broccoli stems, potato peels or cabbage cores as ingredients to be cherished.

Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot are the married brains behind Ideas in Food, a combination blog, workshop, consulting firm and all-around culinary brain trust that serves as a point of inspiration for many professional chefs. Their approach involves taking a second look as a starting point and seeing what others take for granted as an opportunity to explore new avenues in the kitchen. Can we do it better? Can we create better flavors or textures? These are the sorts of questions that propel Kamozawa and Talbot, who often do their best work when it seems like every stone has already been turned.

When it comes to "root-to-flower" cooking, Kamozawa sees it in the same vein as other waste-reducing measures. "I don't think you can differentiate between nose-to-tail and root-to-flower, because it's essentially the same thing," she says. "You're forced to be creative, but there's always a way to add more flavor and create something more delicious. You just need to be willing to look at things from a slightly different angle." Here's how.

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Collard Green Stems: Kamozawa and Talbot often look for new ways to use old techniques, as evidenced in this approach to using every bit of collard greens. Peel the fibrous exteriors of the leaves' stems, then prepare them in the manner of artichokes barigoule, a Provençal vegetable stew in which artichokes (or in this case, collard green stems) are braised with white wine, garlic, lemon, leeks, celery, carrots, black pepper and olive oil. "Eating the tender stems reminds us that every part of a vegetable has edible value," Kamozawa says.

Chestnut Shells: To take chestnuts to the next level, the duo looks to a traditional preparation, fire-roasting, and pushes the idea further. Peel the shells from roasted nuts, then add them to a smoker or scatter over charcoal in a grill, creating a distinctly nutty smoke. (You can make an ad hoc smoker by placing the chestnut shells in a tinfoil packet in the bottom of a saucepan with a steamer insert nested above it. Place it on the stovetop over medium heat until the shells begin to smolder and smoke.) Kamozawa and Talbot smoke chestnuts over their own shells for a double whammy of flavor but encourage people to cook other vegetables or proteins over the nutty smoke, too.

Mushroom Bottoms: Peel mushroom stems and break them into pieces. Char lightly over an open burner and season with salt, paprika and lemon oil while the stems are still sizzling. (Be sure to toss the stems well to evenly coat the mushrooms and distribute seasoning.) Kamozawa and Talbot like to do this with king trumpet stems, employing the fungi as the base of a hearty salad, but the technique also works with any tender mushroom.

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