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.
Zach Pollack didn't set out to be a chef, but Italy changed his mind. After extensive travels throughout the boot and a partnership in the Southern Italian restaurant Sotto, Pollack recently launched his first solo effort, Alimento, in Los Angeles.
The dining room is outfitted in repurposed materials, echoing Pollack's style in the kitchen, where treatments of the whole vegetable hold a particular interest. "For me what's exciting is the idea of preparing a whole vegetable, and how you fabricate it or don't fabricate it prior to cooking," Pollack says. Here are some of his favorite moves.
Escarole Hearts: "At Alimento, we use the outer leaves in a chopped salad, and that gives it a little more body than lettuce alone. Then I stud the hearts with garlic, wrap them in aluminum foil and roast them on high heat for about ten minutes. By the time they've cooled in the foil, they're still intact but super creamy inside."
Artichoke Leaves: "There's definitely a lot of waste on artichokes," Pollack says—unless you borrow a tip he picked up from legendary chef Paul Bertolli. "In [his cookbook], Cooking by Hand, Bertolli takes artichoke petals and cooks them in a pot of water with potatoes, then presses them through a food mill." Rendered as an elegant artichoke soup, it's a refined approach to would-be waste.
Tomato Drippings: Pollack dries tomatoes overnight in a low oven, flavoring them with olive oil, oregano and a pinch of salt. The next day, the tomatoes themselves go into a cracked farro salad, while the by-product—the delicious liquid that leaches out of the tomatoes while they roast—is strained and used in the marinade for escolar crudo. "It adds a bare hint of tomato without any visible solids," Pollack says.
Chile Stems: Rather than tossing out the top section of sliced chiles, Pollack uses the woody stems to add another layer of peppery punch to house-made pepperoncini. "Whenever we pickle chiles, we cut them to within a half inch or so of the stem, then reserve that top part to flavor the pickling liquid, which we pour over the rest of the pepper," Pollack says. "I wanted to make the pepperoncini in-house, but I didn't want it to taste 'artisanal.' So the pickling liquid is mostly just distilled white vinegar, diluted with some water and flavored with a little bay leaf, mustard seed and the chile tops."
Not sure where to go next? Pollack suggests you ask a farmer. "Trust the people who interact with vegetables in their fullest state. When you're buying beets from the farmers market and they ask if you want the tops, ask for their opinion. It's good to say, 'What might I do with the tops? How do they cook? How do they taste?'"
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