“Today, people may think of eating “waste” as a novelty exercise or a passing culinary trend, but really it’s the basis of cuisine – codifying a way of farming, cooking, and eating that responds to the demands of a landscape. How do we make these traditions accessible for everyday eaters? The first step is simple: cook.”
I love this quote from Dan Barber’s piece in the Guardian. In fact, the whole article is great and I encourage you to read it while eating this duo of eggs and jam (recipe below!). The topic of food waste has become big news in recent years. Famous chefs curate fancy pop-ups using would-be waste, cool initiatives intercept food surplus and feed the hungry, new mobile apps share leftovers with neighbours, startups find ways to reuse industry by-products (like the guy who turns coffee grounds into biofuel!), supermarkets are under more scrutiny than ever and wonky veggies have finally made it onto shop shelves.
It’s great. It’s wonderful that for the first time, the public are taking an interest. That businesses are being held to account. That otherwise wasted, perfectly edible food, is finally being used. But somewhere along the line I can’t help but fear that we’re missing the point. The amount of food we waste is a fine example of a whole system of broken links. Broken links that come from our own disconnect with food and where it comes from. How do we learn to joint a chicken (and use every bit of it), if it’s easier to buy our favourite cuts in a neat package? Why would we ever find ways to use stale bread, when fresh bread is so cheap and available? How on earth would we turn sour milk into cottage cheese if we can just buy the product, ready-made, effortlessly? Food waste is just that; a fine example. But no amount of redirecting the surplus will help us the public, the biggest culprits of all, to reduce the food we chuck.
The answer is, simply, in cooking. I was mulling all this over, while reading this little book of Alpine Italian cooking. Roughly translated as Grandma’s mountain kitchen, it’s a collection of the author’s grandmother’s recipes and her own memories from her holidays in the northern Italian mountains.
It’s worth pointing out here that our grandparents, and their ancestors before them, knew what was going down. Out of pure necessity, they were ingenious in their uses of stale bread and sour milk, of lemon rinds and offal. Peasant cooking – or indeed any cooking bred of necessity – has informed our cooking for centuries. Food that is valued is never wasted, and in turn, has led to some of the most delicious, iconic dishes that we still know and love today. Take bread pudding and cottage pie, panzanella and chicken liver paté.
This book is full of dishes informed by both the seasons and simple necessity. Bread soup, rice fritters, chicken liver risotto, creamy polenta, apple frittatas and fruit liqueurs are just some of them… all simple manipulations of good, basic ingredients.
The recipes are short, like one for rice pudding that instructs how to cook rice in buttermilk leftover from making butter, or another for Pastina maria: beat four eggs, two tablespoons of Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg in a bowl. Bring some broth to the boil, add pasta and cook till al dente, stir in the egg mixture and heat through. Or this one for omelette con marmellata. Basically, a jam omelette. Odd at first glance, but a delicious use of basic staples. Zesty fluffy egg with oozy hot jam in the middle…bloomin marvellous.
Below is her recipe from the book, but if you want a fluffier omelette, beat the eggs first with a whisk. She uses apricot jam, but of course, any jam will do. And if you don’t have icing sugar, make it from scratch.
Omelette con marmellata
Serves 2 to 3
Crack 6 eggs into a bowl, add a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and a grating of lemon zest [or orange zest]. Add a knob of butter to a pan and allow to melt, but don’t let it brown. Beat the eggs, tip into the pan, then as soon as it starts to set, add a good spoonful of apricot jam [or whatever jam you’ve got]. Roll up the omelette and cook over a low heat until just the right amount of oozy [I like it quite undercooked]. Transfer to a serving plate, dust over some icing sugar and eat.