“Waste not, want not” was a phrase I heard a lot in my youth. I always took it to mean that I shouldn’t waste something because I might need it in the future.
We all need to use all of our food resources more wisely – and no article makes that case more clearly than National Geographic’s fascinating article, “How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables can Help Solve World Hunger.”
When I was a kid growing vegetables at my garden plot at Miles School Gardens in Cleveland, we used to have caricature contests with our ugly vegetables for prizes in the school garden contests at the end of the year at Cleveland Horticultural Center. Taking that eggplant that looked like it had a little beak of a nose or the two legged carrot that could be the bottom half of a person revved up our imaginations and got us to see something funny in a vegetable that was less than perfect.
But now we need to see the benefit of harvesting (and buying) those vegetables and fruits that aren’t visually appealing. Did you know that 6 billion pounds of U.S. produce goes unharvested or unsold every year – purely for aesthetic reasons?
6 billion pounds sounds like a lot (and it is) – but the overall global waste amounts to 2.9 trillion pounds per year – or about one-third of what the planet produces. And the environmental cost is even higher. “Producing food that no one eats – whether sausages or snickerdoodles – also squanders the water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel, and land used to grow it.”
And not wasting food starts in each of our own kitchens. I cleaned my kitchen fridge and freezer this past weekend (a chore I hate to do – guess that’s why it’s called a chore!)
I was astonished at how much food I ended up throwing out. That container of homemade sauce I froze two years ago, thinking that there would be a night I’d use it for dinner . . . wasn’t usable if I couldn’t find it in the freezer. Some mystery veggie sausages and burgers suffering from freezer burn with no label . . . again, not very good planning on my part, since a clear label with a date they were deposited in the freezer could have helped me incorporate them into a meal. I could go on – but you get the idea.
For someone who cares deeply about our environment, composts religiously, and does not like to waste food, I was pretty darned ashamed of myself.
Which is why I resolved that night to use up the Yukon Gold potatoes that were growing eyes, and the purple kale that wasn’t fresh enough to eat raw in a salad. I remembered that one of my recipes from Fool a Carnivore is a nice gratin with potatoes, kale, and sausage. When I checked it out, I discovered it needed to be updated, because I’d figured out a simpler way to make it that used less time, fewer steps, and was just as good. I also added more flavor by not steaming the kale, but instead sautéing it in some delicious Chardonnay Garlic Grapeseed Oil that I bought at the downtown Greenville location of Oil & Vinegar, a lovely little shop with a dazzling array of oils and vinegars – hence their name! Yes, they carry a lot of other specialty food products too, but I like the idea of being able to bring back my bottles (recycling, right?) and get them refilled the next time I’m in Greenville.
The reason I used the Chardonnay Garlic Grapeseed Oil is that it can take higher heat than olive oil, making it great for sautéing – and the garlic imparts a wonderful aroma without going through the trouble of peeling and mincing your garlic. But don’t despair – if it’s not in your pantry, just sauté your pressed or minced garlic in grapeseed oil or olive oil (using a lower heat) and get a very similar effect with a small extra step.
Alas, my recipe can’t get around using dairy, so you can stop reading if you’re vegan. But if you’re “80% vegan” like I’m trying to be, go ahead and try this recipe on one of the days you’re not eating vegan. It’s really luscious, hot out of the oven!
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
- 2 Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausages (half the package)
- 2 tablespoons chardonnay garlic grapeseed oil (or 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 cloves of minced garlic)
- 6–8 ounces baby kale, washed well and sliced into very thin ribbons
- Unsalted butter or canola oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1¼ cups cream
- 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
- 2–3 tablespoons whole wheat panko
- Bring a large pot to boil about half-filled with water, and add the salt. Put the sliced potatoes in a deep steamer insert and submerge them in the boiling water. Cover the pot and let the potatoes cook for about 8-10 minutes. The potatoes should yield slightly when pierced with a knife, but shouldn't be fully cooked. If they are too soft, they will fall apart in the gratin and not hold their shape.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. While the oven is heating, remove the casing on the sausages. Split them lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces or just save time and crumble them with your hands.
- Take the steamer insert out of the boiling water and put the potatoes in a colander to cool. Don't throw away that cooking liquid. Put the potato broth in clean mason jars and make some delicious soup tomorrow.
- Heat a large skillet, and add the oil. If you’re using the minced garlic, go ahead and sauté that for 30-45 seconds, but don’t let it brown. Add the kale, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the kale is nicely wilted and glistening with the garlic oil. Season with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.
- Lightly oil or butter a gratin dish, and then layer the kale, potato, and sausage in alternating bands. Sprinkle each band with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the cream over the top. Cover tightly with non-stick foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and take it out of the oven for a minute. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and panko, and pop back into the oven (uncovered) to cook for another 15–20 minutes. The potatoes need to be fully cooked and the liquid should be completely absorbed.