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The Produce Whisperer

Chris Cosentino's tips for cooking with the whole vegetable
Photo: Tasting Table
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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 cast-offs like broccoli stems, potato peels or cabbage cores as ingredients to be cherished.

San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino is the poster child for nose-to-tail cooking in America, turning diners on to everything from cockscombs to calf's brains. It should come as little surprise, then, that Cosentino is similarly passionate about working with the less obvious parts of everyday produce. Think of it as vegetable offal.

"If you pay for everything by the pound, why would you want to throw a crap-ton of it into the garbage can?" Cosentino asks. "It's all about feeding people healthfully and deliciously. I think you can do that when you work with products in a really caring way." His approach to cooking whole vegetables is more a matter of rediscovery than of charting new territory: "I'm basically just riding on the coattails of hundreds of grandmas all over the world," Cosentino laughs. "My Italian grandmother used to make spinach stem frittatas, a very classic, old-school move." Here are a few of Cosentino's other favorite techniques for making the most of your produce:

Brussels Sprouts: Cosentino trims the woody bottoms from Brussels sprout stalks, splits them in half lengthwise, and seasons them with salt, pepper and good olive oil. He then roasts the stalks cut-side down for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 F. The interior flesh cooks into tenderness, while the exterior remains tough and fibrous. It's a neat trompe l'oeil to serve the stalk like bone marrow, with grilled bread and a parsley garnish, and a spoon to scrape out the tender flesh within

Radish Greens: Blanch the greens in heavily salted boiling water, then squeeze to remove excess moisture. Chop roughly, then purée the greens and fold into softened butter with a little bit of lemon zest and black pepper. (Use around six bunches of greens per pound of butter.) Cosentino's presentation technique is appropriately rustic: Splat a spoonful of soft radish green butter on a plate, nest fresh radishes on top and season with salt. "It's a classic. I'm really just accentuating the inherent flavors by utilizing other components that most people usually wouldn't touch. We also make a pesto out of radish greens, and we dress radishes with it."

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Parsley Stems: Cosentino often takes scrap in a modern direction, like his whimsical take on green eggs and ham, which features ham and parsley stem stock set into a gelée with a hard-boiled egg floating in the middle. For the home cook, he suggests making a similar parsley-flavored ham stock, and using it (along with a splash of white wine) to deglaze a pan of pancetta and garlic. Throw in a bunch of clams to steam, and you have another delicious twist on a classic.

Bonus Tip: Cosentino also uses bruised parsley stems, added to a bowl of water in place of lemons, to keep trimmed artichokes from browning. "It's an old Italian technique; you see it all throughout Venice. The chlorophyll in the parsley keeps artichokes looking fresh."

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