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Root-to-tip Eating: Whole Plant Harvest

whole-plant-ahrvest
Zucchini stem penne can be a delicious prelude to your summer harvest. Photo By Kel Buckley

You might score yourself highly when it comes to making sure you’re minimising food waste, but what about when you consider all the parts of a food-producing plant that are edible which end up either in the compost, the chicken coop or in the green bin?

We have all heard the phrase nose-to-tail eating, but the same philosophy can be applied to our vegetables. Just like there’s a move towards whole-animal eating, we need to be ‘honouring’ the whole plant and not eating just the popular parts of our fruit and vegetables.

So much of what we grow ends up being discarded while we are missing out on not only the opportunity to reduce waste, but also extra vitamins, fibre and nutrients. Many of the parts that we discard can also hold many hidden medicinal benefits. Here are a few ideas to get you celebrating your whole-plant harvest.

Effort And Flavour

If you think about the size of the fruit and vegetable plants we’re growing, compared to the size of the prepared food that makes it to our plate, we’re often discarding up to 70 percent of what we’ve spent a season caring for. After all the effort spent preparing your soil, sowing your seeds, raising your young seedlings, weeding, feeding, watering and nurturing your own vegetables, it makes sense to try and utilise as much of the plant as we can and make our nutrient-dense homegrown produce stretch further.

All parts of many of the vegetables we eat have a similar flavour profile. As well as in the parts we regularly prepare, quite often you can find similar and more versatile options in the same plant’s flowers, leaves, roots and/or seeds. By allowing a few radishes to go to flower and seed, for example, you’ll be able to harvest the juicy peppery seed pods that are a great snack when eaten fresh or which can be preserved through pickling. Or that coriander plant that has bolted to flower and seed can now be used to flavour dishes using its flowers, roots and seeds, as well as its commonly used leaves.

Inherent Behaviour

For most of us, the way we look at, regard, grow and prepare food is learned. Passed down through family traditions relating to the produce we choose, the varieties we grow and even recipes we prepare. There’s nothing more comforting than producing a meal for yourself or your family reminiscent of what was prepared for you as a child, but with those comforting traditions come an ingrained way of how we look at and prepare produce that most of us never question. If our parents removed broccoli stalks and threw them away, we are more inclined to do the same and so may our children. So as well as the nutritional, financial and environmental benefits, another benefit to us becoming more knowledgable and creative with exactly what we can eat from our gardens is the generational behaviour that we will be passing on.

whole-plant-ahrvest
whole-plant-ahrvest-

From left Peeled zucchini stems can also be filled and cooked like cannelloni; Use beetroot tops like you would rainbow chard – see the resemblance? Photos By Kel Buckley

Nutritional Benefits

Most vegetables hold the largest amount of vitamins and minerals in and just under the skin, which also contains a higher percentage of fibre, so we should be resisting the urge to peel root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and beetroots. If you prefer to peel vegetables, try and look at other ways to consume them instead of throwing them towards the compost. Try tossing peels in a drizzle of oil, along with a pinch of salt and paprika, before baking the peels and turning them into delicious and crunchy chips better than anything you could purchase from a shop.

While broccoli stalks are usually discarded, they are sweet and delicious when roasted and contain higher amounts of calcium, vitamin C and iron than the plant’s florets which we always eat. The leaves of broccoli, too, are a great alternative to kale and can even have a superior flavour.

Family Values

We can use different plant families to inform our decisions. Beetroots, for example, are in the Chenopodiaceae family along with leafy greens like silverbeet, spinach and chard, meaning the beetroot leaves that we’re quick to discard are just as delicious as their roots and, surprisingly, vice versa. Although silverbeet roots may be more fibrous and not as sweet as their beetroot cousins, they are better off being roasted and drizzled in honey than thrown away.

While most of us are familiar with eating zucchini flowers, the young leaves and flowers on the growing tips of pumpkins are also particularly delicious, while the hollow stems of all cucurbits are really tasty once the prickly bits have been removed. Peeled and sliced zucchini stems make an excellent gluten- and carb-free alternative to penne pasta (see recipe).

Eating Seeds

Seeds are often one of the first things we discard when preparing vegies or juicing citrus, but many of them have other uses, nutritional and otherwise, that we can be using to advantage. Roasted pumpkin seeds in a dry pan tossed with a small amount of soy sauce are lunchbox hits, while the high pectin content in citrus seeds are really useful when cooking jams. Held in a small muslin bag and added into the saucepan while jam is cooking releases the natural pectin in the seeds that will help set runny jams naturally. Another example is watermelon seeds, which pack an incredible nutritional punch for their size, while celery seeds can be used to flavour salt, used in cooking and, of course, re-sown in spring.

A Word Of Warning

Just as important as celebrating the whole plant through consumption is knowing what not to eat. Plants in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, chillies and capsicums are an exception as they contain solanine, a type of alkaloid that can be toxic, so never consume the flowers or leaves from these plants.

Asparagus that has gone to fern and is producing berries contains a toxic compound called sapogenin and should never be eaten. Rhubarb leaves is another; the stalks are delicious, but the leaves are extremely high in oxalic acid and are poisonous. Always make sure the part of the plant you’re eating won’t cause you any harm.

jam
Eliminate watermelon waste by turning the thick rind into a great jam. Photo By Kel Buckley

Zucchini stem penne with autumn vegie ragu

This recipe can be easily adapted to whatever seasonal vegies you have in your garden at the time and it is also delicious with a creambased sauce.

INGREDIENTS

1 brown onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
2 celery stalks, cut into thirds
1 red capsicum, whole
2 carrots, cut into thirds
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  cup tomato paste
  cup dry red wine
2 tsp oregano
4 cups zucchini stalk penne, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
  tsp ground black pepper
  cup grated parmesan cheese

METHOD

Preheat oven to 180  C. In a casserole dish, toss onion, garlic, celery, capsicum and carrots in dish with a drizzle of olive oil and place on the middle tray of the oven. Cover and bake for around 40 minutes until soft, turning halfway through. Once cooked, leave the lid on while it cools slightly, allowing the capsicum to sweat which makes removing its skin easy to do by peeling. Also remove the seeds.

Transfer your cooked vegies to a food processor, squeezing the cooked garlic from its skins and removing any onion skins. Pulse lightly to blend into a chunky sauce, around four pulses should do.

In the same pot, heat the rest of the olive oil and add the vegetable sauce, tomato paste, red wine, oregano and half the cheese, stirring continuously until sauce starts to reduce and thicken.

Blanch the zucchini penne in a pot of lightly salted boiling water until it has softened, and drain. Transfer penne to a bowl, spoon the sauce over the top and serve with the remaining parmesan.

Watermelon rind jam

INGREDIENTS

2 cups of watermelon rind, chopped into 3 cm pieces
  apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1 cm pieces
350ml water
  lemon, juiced plus a piece of rind
1 cup raw sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp grated ginger
  teaspoon of ground cardamom

METHOD

Keep 1 cm of pink flesh but remove the hard, green outer skin of the rind before chopping. In a heavybased saucepan, add the rind, apple and water, and boil until the rind becomes tender and translucent.

Remove the rind and apple using a slotted spoon and set aside, and add the lemon juice and sugar into the liquid. Stir continuously over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Add the fruit, honey, ginger, lemon rind and ground cardamom, and continue to stir over a low heat.

Using a potato masher, start breaking up the rinds and apple but resist making the mixture too smooth to ensure your jam has good texture. Continue to stir over low heat until the pectin in the lemon rind causes the jam to thicken.

To test consistency, spoon a quarter of a teaspoon of jam onto a dry plate, wait for a few seconds and drag your finger through the centre. You’ll know the jam is ready when the part remains open.

Once you’re happy with the consistency, transfer to a sterilised jar, seal and allow to cool upside down. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months and, once opened, store your jam in the fridge and consume within a month.

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