When I told my mother last Friday night that I would be eating trash for dinner, I could tell she thought I had finally snapped.
“But it’s Noma-approved!” I said quickly, putting down the spiralizer I was using to make Cauliflower Core Cacio e Pepe, splashing a little Parmesan Rind Broth on my cellphone in the process.
Danish chef Mads Refslund has long been an advocate of “trash cooking,” a term he adopted during his time as co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma to refer to the repurposing of edible items that would otherwise be wasted, like peels, cores, husks, pulp, grounds, stems, produce past its prime, bones, and approximately a million other ingredients.
“When I cook, I’m, of course, not taking things out of the garbage. But it’s important to pause, even just for a moment, before making the decision to throw food away,” says Refslund. “Cooking with scraps must start with knowing how things grow and live as a whole, in nature, even if sometimes they are ‘imperfect’ or ‘ugly,’ or have become wilted and wrinkled.”
His new cookbook Scraps, Wilt + Weeds, co-authored by celebrated forager-extraordinaire Tama Matsuoka Wong, is a pragmatic introduction to this way of cooking, and with its heavy emphasis on produce, it is the perfect guidebook for gardeners in the kitchen looking to make the most of their bounties.
“When I was at culinary school in Copenhagen,” says Refslund, “the day would begin with a cart full of ingredients to cook from. I would wait for the other chefs to pick first. I waited to see what they would grab, because I wanted to take the things left at the bottom—forsaken because they were too ugly or took too long to cook. I wanted to make them delicious, and to honor them: beautiful gifts from nature. Others would choose the prime rib or langoustine. I would choose the root vegetables.”
The bulk of Scraps, Wilt + Weeds is organized by ingredient, making the book very user-friendly for a quick skim to locate an ingredient you would otherwise toss, even if your hands are covered in spiralized cauliflower noodles.
Refslund and Wong intersperse garden-friendly tips throughout, including a short section about composting. “All vegetable and fruit produce, baked goods, pasta, grains, rice, coffee grounds, and eggshells can be composted,” says Refslund.
“I don’t pretend that I, or anyone, invented the idea of cooking with scraps. This is the way people have lived frugally—to survive—from the beginning of humanity, bound with the rhythms of the seasons,” says Refslund.
Today, America is one of the world’s most wasteful nations when it comes to food—almost half of all produce in the United States is thrown away annually, according to the Guardian.
“Globally, 33 percent of food is unused: $750 billion worth of food that is produced is lost or wasted every year,” says Refslund. “Ultimately, wasting food is a decision.”
“Fermentation, drying, canning, and pickling are ways to avoid food waste, to make use of abundant food, and to distill distinct flavors. These basic and time-honored methods span the globe and are found across cultures. Today they are being re-invented as a basis for creating nutritious and flavor-rich food. They also are ways of respecting and reducing food waste,” says Refslund. (See our guide to Sustainable Farming: 10 Tips from the Brooklyn Grange for more zero-waste cooking techniques.)
Scraps, Wilt + Weeds ends with a section about foraging.
“I seek nature in food, by cooking and serving it on the plate,” Refslund says. “I always start by wanting to see what the produce is like whole, the way it was living in nature. Yes, with dirt and guts and beautiful in its own way.”
Refslund and Wong don’t specifically mention fancy-looking rainbow peppercorns foraged from a roommate’s spice cabinet, but I hope for the best as I add them to my Cacio e Pepe—after all, I don’t want them to go to waste, and she won’t be home to use them for at least 30 minutes.
N.B.: For more edible foraging tips, browse our stories: