Waste Not is a collaboration with my friend, Carrie King. The premise is simple: Carrie, a food writer and editor, shares a vegetarian recipe highlighting at least one particular way that we can curb food waste. I make it at home, take a bunch of pictures, and share it with everyone here.
This week I made Carrie’s White Bean and Escarole Soup, which makes very smart use of Parmigiano rinds for extra flavor. This soup is extremely delicious. With just a little bit of time, it develops into something creamy and rich, but decidedly not heavy. It’s the perfect soup for enjoying while riding out an early spring snow storm. (Spoken from experience.)
I once heard that every time someone composts a Parm rind, an angel loses its wings.
Maybe not, but definitely each time a rind thuds against a trash can, some Parmigiano maker in Italy disappears a little, kind of like Michael J Fox in Back-to-the-Future when he is, er… dating his mom.
Ok, fine. When you toss a perfectly good Parm rind, probably nothing really happens other than you waste a seriously valuable food treasure. But… isn’t that bad enough?
Aside from the fact that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the
undisputed mostly-agreed-upon King of Cheeses, it’s also kind of a splurge. It’s not like they’re giving it away—a good deal on the real stuff is likely to set you back $19 or $20/lb. Bear with me for some simple math: If you paid $10 for your last hunk of cheese, and the weighty rind accounts for 20% of the price, and you throw it out, you’re depositing almost $2 in the trash. And $2 isn’t a fortune, but multiply that $2 times all the Parm you buy in your life and suddenly it’s like, you could have flown to Italy and back with the money you discarded. Not to mention, I just spied my local Whole Foods selling pint containers of rinds for $8.99/lb! I don’t think they could get away with that if Parm rinds were worthless!
Beyond the fact that it’s not cost-effective to toss it, I think there’s a popular misconception that maybe cheese rinds aren’t edible? Some of them definitely aren’t, ie those made of cloth or hard red wax. Definitely don’t throw them in a soup unless you love red broth. But, most other rinds are good-to-go! Just think of them as the hardened, roughed up version of the actual cheese itself. Yes, some of them are stinky. And, sometimes they’re moldy. Or not that pleasing to the eye. And… also, sometimes they have a gritty, unpleasant texture. I’ll concede, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But most cheese rinds are edible, flavor bombs. Particularly, the hardened edges of your Parm. In fact, in my house, finding the melted Parm rind in your bowl is like winning a prize or finding the trinket in a King Cake at Mardi Gras. Winner, winner, Parm rind dinner!
Long story, kind-of short—saving up your Parm rinds for a rainy day is just about the easiest way I can imagine for you to take steps towards curbing food waste and extending your dollar in the kitchen. So next time you think about dooming your Parm end to live the rest of its milky life in the deepest, darkest depths of a trash bag or compost pile—instead of depositing it in the trash, open the freezer and deposit it in a handy container or bag used just for this purpose. They add up quick! And whenever you’re ready to add a super flavor boost to stocks, soups, and broths you will never be short on cheesy flavor goodness. Who knows—if you save up enough, maybe you could start a cottage industry selling them to your neighbors for $7.99/lb!
Cannelini & Escarole Soup
Servings- Large: 4 Smaller: 6
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 large-ish shallot, thinly sliced
1 large head escarole, chopped and very well rinsed to remove grit/sand
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans
1 quart low sodium veg stock (homemade or high-quality store bought)
2 fresh bay leaves (3 dried)
2 oz Parm rind(s)
½ lb ditalini or baby shells
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high.
Add smashed garlic cloves and sliced shallot to pot, cook until lightly golden, 3-4 minutes.
Add the clean escarole by grabbing it with your hands or a spider from the water, leaving the sand/grit behind. Season with ½ Tbsp kosher salt and a few grinds pepper. Add a pinch of chili flakes (or you could leave this out if you’re not down with the heat).
Stir to wilt, 3-4 minutes.
As the escarole cooks, open both cans of beans: drain and rinse 1, pour the second can into a shallow bowl and use the back of a fork to roughly smash the beans and their liquid. Doesn’t have to be totally smooth. Add the smashed beans and their liquid to the pot with the escarole, along with 1 quart each low sodium veggie stock and water, 2 fresh bay leaves, parm rind(s), and 1 tsp salt. Stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
Add reserved drained beans and pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente (according to package instructions), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Once done, taste, season with more salt and pepper if necessary (remember you’re going to add grated Parm which brings some salt, too). When you’re ready to serve (which should be kind of prontissimo after it’s done) hit it with some freshly grated Parm, a drizzle of olive oil, and, if you’re like me, more chili flakes.
+ This is just one of lotsa ways I use Parm rinds. And, I make many versions of this soup, usually depending on what kinds of odds and ends I find in my pantry. (Full disclosure: unlike my bud, Erin, I eat meat. Non-meat eaters, ignore this next meat-related tip!) Sometimes, when the food waste gods will it, I find that I have an odd end of bacon or pancetta or a few random leftover bacon strips tucked in the depths of my fridge. It’s dreamy—akin to finding the exact change you need in your pocket. On these occasions, I dice up the pork and start the soup by rendering the fat out and crisping it up. Then I fish out the crispy bits, leaving the fat behind in the pot, and build the soup on the back of that rather than olive oil. Then, I top the bowls with crispy, rendered bacon or pancetta bits when serving.
+ Pasta purists will hate this, but as long as the pasta shapes are around the same size, ie all small, like ditalini and baby shells, or super small, like stellette or pastina, I just combine them in the pot. Voila! 2 (or maybe even 3!) food waste birds killed with 1 stone.
+ I tend to use canned cannellini beans (say that three times fast) because they are speedy and also I like the milky texture that I find hard to replicate when I make them from fresh. Feel free to sub a few cups of beans that you’ve cooked from dried if you’d prefer!
+ If you’d like to make the soup ahead of time, skip adding the pasta initially. Bring the soup back to a boil and add pasta ten minutes before serving.
What about you guys? Do you save your parm rinds? What’s your favorite way to put them to use?
Thanks to Carrie King for writing this post and developing the recipe. When Carrie’s not encouraging me in tiny-apartment cooking adventures, she’s a food writer and editor. Her cookbook work includes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner….Life with Missy Robbins and The Chef Next Door with Amanda Freitag. She has contributed to Gather Journal and Life & Thyme and works as recipe editor at Marley Spoon and Dinnerly. Thanks to culinary school and lots of time spent in kitchens, both professional and home, she can cook just about anything, but usually just wants a
few couple few slices of pizza.