Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thrifty Kitchen: Eat your stems! (and tops, and greens...)

Buy three pounds of broccoli, and get a full pound of stems.

Stems. No one likes 'em. They're tough. And stringy. Full of fiber, sure, maybe, but the bottom line is: they're not what you wanted when you bought that broccoli. You didn't want a bundle of unsexy, woody things skulking on your countertop, flavorless as firewood. But, like it or not, there they are. What to do, what to do.

Broccoli stems. Lettuce stalks. Beet greens. So many vegetables come with baggage, unwanted parts you can either throw away (waste your money!) or find a use for. As I've said before, wasting food (no matter how unsexy) makes my heart hurt, so predictably I tend towards the latter.

Lettuce stalks, I've decided, are the perfect faux bok choy. After stripping all the leafy green parts from a head of romaine, I save the crispy white innards for a date with soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced carrots and bamboo shoots. Broccoli stems get turned into little green coin-shaped slices and thrown into the pot a few minutes before the florets go in. The extra cooking time is enough to soften them up, and they taste great. I've also been known to substitute broccoli stems for asparagus in stir fries.

Beet greens are one bonus vegetable product I never have trouble eating. Whether I've purchased them or grown them, I love them almost as much as the beets they precede. Garlic, oil, and vinegar is really all they need, but last night we were feeling a little lavish.

Just a little.

The combination of pecans, blue cheese, sherry vinegar and chopped tomato is one we stole from a local restaurant, (Just a Taste) but there's no need to stick with it exactly. Parmesan or feta cheese would be tasty as well, toasted breadcrumbs or any other nut or seed would work in place of pecans, and if you don't have sherry vinegar, don't sweat it. A splash of white wine vinegar or lemon would be fine, too.

Garlic Braised Beet Greens with Creamy Polenta

The Polenta

4 cups good-quality vegetable broth (homemade, if that's your penchant)
1 cup medium grind cornmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Bring the broth to a boil in a large sauce pan. Holding a whisk in one hand and the cornmeal in the other, sprinkle the cornmeal into the broth, whisking all the while. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, for about fifteen minutes. This is a drag, but so worth it. Mix in the salt, cream, and butter, taste and adjust, and call it done. Set the polenta aside.

The Greens

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb good-looking beet greens, in bite-size pieces
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tomato from a can of whole tomatoes in water, chopped (don't use fresh)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Warm the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, stirring over medium heat until lightly browned. Lower the heat and add the greens, cooking another minute more until wilted but not mushy. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar, tomato, and pecans. Sprinkle in the blue cheese and give it one last stir.

Eaten alone, the polenta would be too bland (and the greens too tangy), but eaten together they are just right. The polenta is sweet and nutty, the blue cheese, vinegar, and tomato juices mingle to make this pinkish sauce that floods over everything... oh man, it was good.

So good.


Blue is Bleu said...

That looks so yum! And it's true, we do waste a lot of the stems on veggies.. time to remedy that! :D Thanks for the great idea... will have to try this!

Kristina said...

Thanks, Blue, glad you like the idea.

karenjane said...

gosh your always full of good ideas! i think of myself as at least a little thrifty but ill admit i throw out all those things. except the beat leaves, mmm, beet leaves! ill definately have a try of broccoli stalks

Kristina said...

Karen, beet greens are the tastiest, aren't they? I love putting them in salads.

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