I really love food and cooking. If I could spend an entire day in my kitchen cooking, baking, testing and tasting different recipes, I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t think that’s too far off from Italians and their food culture, either. For example, (from the viewpoint of an American) when I envision the “typical Italian grandmother”, I picture someone who:
A. Makes big, elaborate breakfasts, lunches AND dinners
B. Is constantly asking, “Have you eaten?” and “You need to eat more; you’re too thin”
C. Cooks food…and more food…and then some more food…
Though Italians are known for their passion for good food, food waste is clearly a cultural issue, as made clear by the new 2016 food waste law proposed to encourage (and incentivize through tax breaks) restaurants and other food related businesses to donate unwanted food. When I first arrived, I found it surprising to see the lack of “take away” options (and general “acceptance” in doing this…hello, customer who is clearly not Italian!) in restaurants, though I’m wondering if it’s because cooking at home is more popular.
Those extra scraps, though. That last bit of unappetizing stale bread. Those wilted, slightly yellowed “fresh” herbs. Shriveled beans, droopy greens, last month’s eggplant… I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for new ideas and inspiration in the kitchen. Here’s some “Americanized” recipes and tips for getting the most out of the food staling in your pantry or wilting away in your fridge.
Dairy products, eggs and meat
According to a study done by Segre and Falasconi (2011), the majority of food waste in Italy comes from dairy products, eggs and meat (35%!). These foods are hard to use past the “use-by” date because it could be dangerous to consume them, but there’s definitely a few tips to getting the most use out of them before they reach this point!
If you don’t think you’re going to use the meat you purchased that week, stick it in the freezer right when you get home. Older eggs are delicious and easy to peel when hard or soft boiled. And dairy (milk!) can actually be useful when you think it might be sour, as long as it hasn’t curdled yet. Try making cottage cheese by cooking sour milk in a boiler over simmering water until the watery part of the milk begins to separate from the curd, strain it through a towel to remove the excess milk and add in cream, salt and pepper! You could also try baking with soured milk and treat it like buttermilk in a recipe. It may sound crazy, but it’s worth a try to avoid that last bit of waste.
Next in line: BREAD! I’m constantly amazed at the number of pastry and bread shops I pass when I’m walking around Firenze. Two questions come to mind when I pass them-
1. How they can all sustain themselves with SO much competition?
2. Do Italians really consume that many carbs every day?
I know that panzanella is a true-and-tried recipe in the Italian culture, but in America we love to make it into croutons and breadcrumbs. I don’t think I’ve been to a restaurant here that has served me croutons in my salad, but in America if you don’t want them, you generally have to specifically request it. To make them, slice stale bread up into little cubes as you might do for panzanella, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh/dry herbs (like oregano) and a little salt & pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven at 175 degrees C for at least 15 minutes, or until they get browned, crunchy and yummy!
Breadcrumbs are even easier to make; simply put chunks of stale bread in a trusty food processor and process them until crumbly. You could package up specific amounts of breadcrumbs (like 1 cup) in bags and stick them in the freezer for later use, too. Looking for breadcrumb recipe inspiration? In America, we love to use our breadcrumbs for recipes like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Though certainly not the “healthiest” of recipes, they are oftentimes the “main course” in our meals.
If you’re looking for more innovative recipes, one of my favorite magazines in the U.S. has more exciting ways to use breadcrumbs. Try one of my favorite dishes-shepherd’s pie! One of the cool things about the U.S. is that we’re a melting pot, and our food culture largely reflects on this. Though shepherd’s pie is technically and “Irish” dish, don’t be surprised to find it on the typical American’s dinner table!
Fruits, vegetables and herbs
The same study by Segre and Falasconi, they found fruits, vegetables and herbs to only make up 16% of food waste in Italian culture, which is awesome! Though not actual recipes, if you’re looking for a couple ways to use up old produce or preserve it just before it goes bad, try one of my three favorite techniques: blanching, pickling and drying! Each process requires little time in the kitchen and provides simple ways to deal with produce that might be going bad.
Want to share your own tips and tricks on how you use up dairy, meats, eggs, bread or produce? Comment on facebook! I’d love to hear if you try any of these recipes or have ideas of your own.