What do you do with your food waste?

Meet my latest ally in the war against food waste: Chipie, aka Goaty McGoat Face. Handsome, isn’t he?

A goat eats food waste in France

Goaty and his two allies have been an unexpected bonus of my current (temporary) home in rural southwest France. I’ve never been terribly fond of goats, but I’m warming to these three every day. They’re becoming increasingly keen on me too, mostly because I’ve become the bringer of unexpected treats. I used to think goats would eat anything, but these ones are quite discerning (they are French, after all). They don’t fancy egg shells very much, are a bit sniffy about orange peel and look askance at onion skins. However, they LOVE leftover rice or pasta, adore stale bread and are quite partial to apple cores. I think they might be my spirit animals.

Food waste is a major issue in France, as it is in much of the world. The UN estimates that about one-third of all the food produced in the world is thrown away or wasted. People in industrialised countries waste around 222 million tonnes of food every year – which is about the same amount of food as produced in sub-Saharan Africa. To me, this is appalling.

In 2016, France was hailed as a world leader in reducing food waste after it passed legislation that required large supermarkets donate unsold food to charities. This is a good start in a country where industrial food production is an art form and one that many other countries could emulate. I fear that the real problem is that commercial food production has changed the way people eat so much that food is no longer valued in any way. How do you expect people to respect what they eat when they’re being urged to ‘buy one get one free’ at every turn? At that price, it doesn’t matter if the item goes off or you don’t eat it, does it? Then again, most things that are offered in this way are so denatured that they’ll probably never go off anyway. But I digress.

Even if you eschew commercially produced food there will be food waste of some sort. Sure, you can make radish leaf pesto and find 101 uses for a stale baguette (this is a life skill that I am particularly proud of, especially now), but what about vegetable peelings, three-day-old leftover rice and tomato stalks? At the moment, this is where the goats come in. Unfortunately, I won’t be in a position to take them with me when I return to New Zealand later in the year, but I do have a few other ideas.

Thanks to The Very Green Gardener, my Wellington garden is home to a worm farm that deals with the bulk of our food waste. Worms aren’t as cute as goats and they’re also a bit fussy (they don’t like citrus, onion skins or meat). But boy, they are certainly efficient! If you want to know what true smugness is, feed your worms the peelings or ends of vegetables that you grew yourself, nurtured by vermicast and worm wee that your own worms produced. Worm farms are ideal for people who fear that a compost bin will turn into a rat hotel (that’s me) or those with not much space. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The most obvious thing we can all do starts well before the food turns into ‘waste’. I feel anxious when I read reports claiming that people no longer have the interest or skills to cook because I believe they are losing connection with the natural world, with social heritage and with what should be a basic human skill. If you can’t feed yourself or those around you, what hope do you have? Being able to cook means being able to liberate yourself from Big Food and shrinkwrapped food that bares little or no resemblance to anything natural. Being able to cook means knowing how to shop so you’re not wasting money or time. Being able to cook means you can stretch not much into dinner.

The photo above is a case in point. It’s not fancy – an onion, some lardons and a ripped-up stale baguette fried in a splash of olive oil, tossed with some spaghetti and a handful of ‘haricots beurres’ (along with a splash of the pasta cooking water) – but it was fast, delicious and cost about 3 Euros to make. The goats ate the bean ends and the onion skin will hopefully break down to nourish the earth. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Sweetcorn now in stock

One of the most endearing scenes in the movie Big (where Tom Hanks plays a little boy magicked into a man’s body) is when he picks up an ear of baby corn and eats it, typewriter-style, at a fancy event. Of course, baby corn usually tastes of nothing but tin, but at least you don’t have the problem of what to do with the cobs afterwards.

If you’re getting through a heap of sweetcorn this summier, let me introduce you to an excellent kitchen hack: you can turn those nibbled cobs into the sweetest, most flavoursome stock ever. It doesn’t make them fit into your worm farm any easier, but at least you’re extracting maximum value first.

SWEETCORN STOCK

Gather as many cobs as you have – ideally 4-6 – and put them in a large pot with half an onion, a well-washed carrot and a stick of celery. Cover with cold water. Cover the pot and set over medium heat. Let it come to the boil, then simmer gently for 40 minutes. Cool and strain into suitable containers with lids. Refrigerate and use within five days, or freeze for up to three months. And if you’re wondering what to do with sweetcorn stock, the following recipe should do the trick nicely.

SWEETCORN AND KUMARA CHOWDER

Save this for a rainy day (there’s bound to be one along soon!)

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo sauce (roughly 1 chipotle, with a bit of sauce around it)
3 ears sweetcorn, kernels shaved
1 medium kumara, peeled, diced
2½ cups sweetcorn or other vegetable stock
⅓ cup creme fraiche, plus a little more for garnishing if desired

Melt the butter in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is beginning to soften. Add the salt, turmeric and chipotle. Add the corn kernels and kumara. Stir well, then add the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the kumara is soft.

Remove from the heat and puree, either using a stick blender, a food mill or a food processor. Return to the saucepan and taste for seasoning – add more salt if needed. If the soup seems very thick, add a little boiling water. Stir through the creme fraiche and reheat gently. Serve hot, garnished with a little extra creme fraiche and a drizzle of chipotle sauce.

How to make mascarpone

Ever been at home and experienced a mascarpone emergency? You know, that feeling you get when you really need a tub of thick, luscious cultured cream but you know the corner shop won’t have any and you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket? Well, let me save you. Here’s a dead easy way to make mascarpone at home that doesn’t require faffing about with straining through layers of cheesecloth and other such hassles. This is a two-ingredient wonder that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Homemade mascarpone

There are more recipes for mascarpone than you can shake a stick at – and a lot of argument about which method is better, or more authentic. I’m not interested in wading into that quagmire, especially since I don’t have any claims to knowing the secrets of Italian grandmothers. However, I do know the way my mother used to make it and it works a charm. All you need is a thermometer and a bit of patience.

1 litre cream

1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Pour the cream into a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches 90C. When this happens, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and stir for another two minutes (at a leisurely pace, don’t work up a sweat), then remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Unless you’re in a very warm climate, you can safely leave the cream at room temperature for about four hours. By this time the cream should have thickened considerably. Give it a stir, then cover and put it in the fridge for at least three hours before using – ideally overnight.

I find it thick enough by this point, but you can always strain it through a layer of new cheesecloth or similar if you want the end result to be very thick. The resulting cheese will keep for more than a week in the fridge – but since I can just about eat it straight from the bowl I never have a problem with using it up. If you need more inspiration, there’s this Black Doris and white chocolate tiramisu, this tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone and this breakfast dessert option – raspberries, walnuts and mascarpone on toast.

Burger Wellington – the book

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

homemade ginger beer + panaché

If you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, or at least one where hot summers are guaranteed, you can’t begin to imagine how incredible it is to suddenly be blessed with blazing sunshine and balmy temperatures. After Wellington’s dismal effort last summer (grey skies, rain, wind, occasional flooding), which was so miserable I started seriously considering moving to Auckland or even Hamilton, everything has changed. It’s seriously hot (I’m writing this in a bikini, while eating an ice cream sundae) and I love it all over again. I don’t think I’m the only one. Just before Christmas I bumped into a former Wellingtonian who now lives in Sydney. He was laughing at how relaxed the city and its inhabitants were as a result of the better weather. “Everyone is so happy,” he said, “it’s like we’ve come somewhere completely different!”

There are downsides to this weather – there’s a water ban, so my garden is slowly dying (while my naughty neighbours keep their lawns lush with irrigation systems in a flagrant display of privilege), it’s been too hot to sleep at night and my sourdough making is taking a hit – but I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m off to the beach with a bottle of my icy-cold homemade ginger beer. Here’s how to make it (it will ferment and be ready in super-quick time if you’re similarly blessed with good weather). Happy holidays!

Homemade ginger beer

Makes 1.5 litres

For the syrup:

2/3 cup caster sugar

3cm fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tbsp ground ginger

Finely grated zest and juice of two lemons

1 cup boiling water

For the yeast:

¼ tsp dried yeast

½ tsp sugar

2 tbsp lukewarm water

Make the syrup first by putting the caster sugar, fresh and ground ginger and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Put the yeast, ½ tsp sugar and warm water in a cup and set aside until it is bubbly.

Set a sieve over a funnel into a clean 1.5 litre plastic soft drink bottle. Pour in the syrup, followed by the lemon juice, pressing down to extract all the syrup from the grated zest and ginger. Fill the bottle with cold tap water until about 5cm from the top. Shake to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Cover tightly with the lid. Leave in a warm place (the kitchen will be warm enough in summer) until the bottle feels hard when you squeeze it. This will take about 24-36 hours. Chill in the fridge before opening.

Once you’ve got the ginger beer made, you can either drink it straight, add it to gin or vodka-based cocktails or use it in this classy shandy…

Ginger panaché

Ginger beer + crisp lager = instantly refreshing pick-me-up. If you’re too cool to be seen drinking a shandy, tell everyone it’s a panaché (that’s what you call a shandy in France).

1 x 375ml bottle lager, very chilled

1 ½ cups (375ml) homemade ginger beer, very chilled

1 lemon, sliced

Ice

Half-fill two tall glasses with ice. Half-fill each one with ginger beer, then top with an equal amount of lager. Stir to mix, garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary with remaining lager and ginger beer. Santé!