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Cauliflower with leaves

Ok, I admit the title is provocative!* But, for many people, (including me for many years) that’s where the stalks, leaves and cores of things like cauliflower and broccoli end up.  Looking at the fresh, beautifully ruffled, bright green of the leaves shown here, it seems obvious they should be eaten in something, the question has always been what…

beautiful cauliflower leaves

When you think about it, it seems strange that in a common plant family such as Brassicas – whose vegetable members we eat as flowers, leaves, stems and roots – we seem to have quite fixed ideas about which parts of the plant to eat.  Brassicas include vegetables from cauliflower and broccoli (flowers), to cabbage, kale and rocket (leaves), gai lan and choy sum (stalks and leaves), kohlrabi (stalk), to turnips, radish and daikon (roots).  Not to mention mustard (seeds).  And for the most part, all parts of all of them are edible.  Note I say edible, not necessarily palatable!  I’m not going to start digging up my kale roots to munch on…

wash thoroughly

But, as I’ve mentioned previously, the leaves of radishes (and turnips) can be delicious, and as I will show you, so can the stalks and leaves of other Brassicas.  Now, the pale green inner leaves, and much of the core of cauliflower (and broccoli if you can find one with leaves) can easily be cooked along with the rest of the florets, and you may well already do this.  However, some parts are quite a bit tougher, and really need long slow cooking to become delicious, not always an easy step to work into a stir fry!  I find this applies to the outer leaves and stalks of cauliflower and broccoli, as well as outer leaves and core of cabbage, stems of silverbeet (different plant family, same idea), and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment.

chop vegetables evenly

Now you may wonder, why bother?  Why bother cooking bits of vegetables you need to simmer for an hour (yes, sorry, I didn’t mention that part yet…) to become tender.  Well apart from the fact that, as you already know, I really hate wasting food, look at the amount I got from one cauliflower…  Half a kilogram of delicious greens, forming the basis of a couple of meals, that were effectively free!

One problem you may encounter is only finding vegetables that are already heavily trimmed so you don’t get any of those extras.  All I can do is urge you to look for sources where you can get vegetables ‘au naturel’, and I’m pleased to say that more recently I’ve found even the big supermarkets are increasingly selling vegetables that way.

cook slowly until soft

For this particular batch, as well as using the cauliflower leaves, I used up the stalks of the silverbeet leaves I had cooked in this pasta.  Most of the resulting pesto was then used in a cauliflower risotto (also using some of the remaining cauliflower head) topped with chilli anchovy fried breadcrumbs made from this bread.

So do you use your vegetables root-to-tip?  And if so tell me about your favourite uses.

compost pesto - ready for adding to all sorts of things...

*(and it’s probably not technically a pesto either, but you get the idea)

Compost pesto

Adapted from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal

  • 500-700g surplus greens – can include stalk and leaves from cauliflower, broccoli stalks, cabbage outer leaves, silverbeet stems, turnip or beetroot leaves and stalks if too tough to steam or stir fry etc etc
  • 4 -6 large cloves garlic
  • 90 ml olive oil
  • water to barely cover
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • parmesan to serve (optional)

Wash greens well (I soak in the salad spinner) then trim any damaged bits and cut off any particularly tough or stringy sections – I sometimes find the very bottom of cabbage stalks are a bit stringy for example.  Chop roughly, ensuring you cut across stalks and stems so you won’t have any long strings in the final pesto.

Put in a big pot with the peeled garlic and oil, and add enough water to almost cover.  Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and and simmer, partly covered, until soft enough to mash.  Depending what sort of stalks you use, this could take up to an hour.  The water should be largely evaporated by this stage, but if there is still a lot of water left, increase temperature and cook uncovered until it is mostly gone.

Using a potato masher, mash until a rough paste.  You can use an immersion blender if you prefer a smoother texture.  Season with salt and pepper.  You can add some grated parmesan at this stage, or leave it plain and add when serving.

This mixture has so many uses: I’ve added to omelettes, piled on hot toast, tossed through cooked grains or pasta, and stirred into risotto.  It lasts a week in the fridge.

One year ago: Almond cake with syrupy blood oranges

For the other side of the world

Six months ago: Robyn’s pasties