As a nation we are grappling with the fact that the quality of our food has become inversely related to its affordability. The miracle of the massive, post-World War II growth in agricultural production has resulted in increased expectations from the consumer that food will be readily available and it will be relatively inexpensive. Now have a broken system where our government foots the bill for large-scale vegetable and meat producers operating within an economy of scale that makes the price small farms are charging for their thoughtfully raised products seem rather steep.
Of course, growers don’t want this to be the case, and we consistently take steps to improve our efficiency, creating systems that will allow us to market a more accessible product while making a decent living in the process. While we take steps toward a leaner approach, the consumer must also make concessions if we are to reach our mutual desire to create a cleaner planet, and make access to responsibly grown produce more affordable. Paying more for good food, grown right must become an intentional decision, and one that carries the incentive of lowering food costs over time by theoretically increase their demand.
The consumer can also take a smarter approach to how they process their own food. It is not uncommon to waste a good amount of the food we’re buying when preparing a meal, not because we want to, but because we haven’t found a better use for certain vegetable by-products. Developing methods to use on what we perceive as waste will not only cut costs, but also create a more diverse repertoire you have at your disposal in the kitchen. Saving onion and carrot skins for vegetable stock, eating the greens of root vegetables like radishes, and my all-time favorite, broccoli stems, are good examples that bring more “lean” to your cuisine.
Speaking of broccoli stems, here is an awesome recipe for a vegetable confit, a process usually associated with meat. It gently cooks and tenderizes the stem, while infusing it with amazing flavor and allowing you to preserve it in your fridge for use at a later date.
As many broccoli stems as you want to eat
One small, heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron
One head of garlic, cloves separated and crushed
One bunch each, thyme, rosemary, oregano
Dried chili flakes (optional)
Whole spices like star anise, allspice, clove, black peppercorn, all in small amounts
Enough fat (either animal or vegetable) to fully cover the stems in the skillet
Start by removing the florets and setting them aside for another use. Peel all the fibrous, inedible skin from the stem. Place the stems whole with some salt in a bowl and mix, leaving for about 30 minutes. Pat dry after the time has elapsed and add to the skillet with all the garlic, herbs, spices, and chili flakes. Pour fat over the stems until they are just covered and turn on a low burner. Once the stems begin to release little bubbles, turn off the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Remove the stems, and drain the oil, reserving it for another use. At this point, you can thinly slice the stems and add them to salads or meat dishes as a garnish. The are awesome grilled whole, and they take a nice sear in the pan really well. For a whole broccoli meal, cut them into chunks, fry them until they are evenly browned, and serve them with this broccoli floret puree:
All the florets leftover from the confit recipe
One pot of salted, boiling water
One bowl of ice water
½ cup oil leftover from confit recipe
Blanch the florets in the boiling water until they just become tender and then transfer them to the ice water bath. This will cook them just enough so that they can be blended, but also preserves their color and nutrition content by not overcooking them. Take out about one cup of the blanching water and let it cool. You can add this in small increments to the blender to help puree the broccoli. Place florets in blender with the oil and begin to blend. If it doesn’t blend well, add small amount of the leftover blanching liquid, just to get it going. You should end up with a bright green puree to serve with your fried broccoli stems. If this doesn’t totally satiate you, you can add it to some fresh pasta for a super-filling meal. Add some bacon or ham if you want to go completely nuts. Speaking of nuts, that would also be good, come to think of it. And cheese. I love cooking.
Broccoli needs to be kept really dry, because there are so many air pockets between all its little florets. After washing it, make sure you let it drain well, and then put it in a ziploc bag with a dry towel in it to encourage even more moisture to be pulled out. Don’t seal the bag completely, as the broccoli will appreciate good airflow. It should keep in the crisper drawer for a three or four days before it starts to lose its firmness. In a perfect world, you should really be prepping and eating your broccoli as soon as possible, but it’s not always that simple. Replacing the paper towel every day will prolong its life.