Extracting all of the usable potential from every single vegetable is a daily goal and primary mission for Culinary Vegetable Institute Chef Jamie Simpson. Adhering to a “zero waste” philosophy requires unwavering adherence to waste-reducing kitchen practices. But the challenge doesn’t stop there. Chef Jamie and his staff don’t just use everything. They transform ingredients that many others would toss in the trash. In this Plant to Plate feature, Chef Jamie makes a potato gnocchi recipe and, rather than discarding the peels, he uses them to infuse the dish with another layer of intense potato flavor.
Whether it’s “root to tip” or “snout to tail,” making the most, literally, of every food resource is what makes the Culinary Vegetable Institute kitchen hum. Even when it comes to a few humble potatoes, it all boils down to sustainability.
TCG: How do you implement zero waste solutions?
JS: We have several lines of defense before anything is garbage. First, is it recyclable? Then, obviously, we’ll recycle it. Is this container usable for something else, long term? Okay, that’s an easy solution for a usable container. You look at food waste, and ask, is this edible? Is it delicious? That then goes back to guests in some way. Is it nutritious? Say, for pigs? Then it’s going to go to the pigs. Is it compostable? And then, if it’s none of those things, it’s garbage. Which is nothing.
TCG: So, how are potato peels not pig food?
JS: We make this really amazing baked potato consommé for gnocchi that’s made from the peeled potatoes.
TCG: In what ways do you prevent waste coming into the kitchen?
JS: Some suppliers, we just don’t use. Not because of the product, but because of the packaging. It’s like, Styrofoam packing peanuts in a four-foot box for a 6 oz. item, and there are four boxes and they’re Styrofoam lined.
TCG: What waste-saving solutions do you think would help with that?
JS: I’m digging the corn starch packing peanuts. Because they’re completely edible, I don’t feel bad about it going out and getting rained on, because it’s just turning into a cornstarch slurry and becomes food for some microbes. I’m into it. I’ve seen a couple of companies really going hard with those.
TCG: What about non-vegetable foods? How do you avoid waste with, say, meat?
JS: So, I honestly hate beef tenderloin. I hate it. And it’s a prime cut that is coveted by a lot of people. And it gets a lot per pound, and I have no interest in it. I’ll take a cow full of bones over a cow’s weight in tenderloins. Seriously. Delicious. Even something as delicious as offal, or less than prime cuts. What is garbage? If I’m serving other ingredients that I think are just as delicious or more interesting or more whatever, to someone else that’s garbage? Who gets to make those calls?
TCG: Have you ever tried to extend the potential of something that didn’t work?
JS: We tried a 40-gallon crock of pickles, and we just kept adding other stuff to it. It was a huge crock. But it wasn’t even fit for pigs. It was a really big experiment that seemed reasonably safe. It didn’t work. And it was a lot of food waste. And we couldn’t use it as compost because it would kill all the microbial growth. It confirmed our commitment to experimenting in small batches, but to really go hard when you know it’s scalable.
TCG: What if you do have a whole lot of something? How do you handle the volume?
JS: For example, we brought in palettes of pumpkins for the Roots conference (in September). There were a couple pumpkins that rotted early, so some of the soft pumpkins went to pigs, some rotten pumpkins went to compost, and the good pumpkins went to guests. And we just threw one away. And it was a good one for a long time and then I stuck my finger through it and it grossed me out.
Potato Gnocchi Recipe
For the gnocchi:
- Peel 6-7 medium potatoes. Set peels aside.
- Quarter the peeled potatoes and boil in salted water until tender.
- Strain cooked potatoes into a mesh sieve and gently break them up to dispel moisture and preserve fluffy texture.
- Work potatoes through the sieve with a silicone spatula onto a lightly floured countertop.
- Whisk two eggs in a bowl held over the steam from the potato water, to warm them.
- Grate ½ c. parmesan cheese over the mound of potatoes and add herbs.
- Pour the wet mixture onto the mound and incorporate with a scraper/chopper.
- Dust with flour and gently work the dough until it just holds together. The texture should be soft and pillowy.
- Roll out dough into three or four 1-inch cylinders.
- Cut each roll into uniform 1-inch pieces and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
For the vegetable waste stock:
- Toss potato peels with a few drops of olive oil.
- Arrange on baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 350˚ until crisp and golden.
- While they bake, stem and peel 8 small mushrooms, reserving stems and peels.
- Chop 2 cloves garlic, reserving peel.
- Trim leaves and blooms from mustard stems, reserving stems.
- Place baked peels in a medium-sized bowl and add boiling water just to cover. Add all reserved stems and peels. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
- Steep peels for 10 to 20 minutes. Liquid will turn a red/brown russet color.
- Strain the potato peels and trimmings from the broth and adjust salt.
To cook the gnocchi
- Boil salted water in a large heavy pot.
- Lightly roll each dumpling in a dusting of surface flour.
- Test-cook one dumpling first before adding the whole batch.
- As you add gnocchi, maintain a low gentle boil, leaving enough space for water to circulate around them. The dumplings will sink, and then “swim” to the surface.
- Once they rise to the top, skim the dumplings out and set aside.
- Heat butter in a pan and sear dumplings on one side.
Ladle broth into a shallow bowl and gently arrange gnocchi and mushrooms.