The last chapter of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune cookbook is devoted to “Garbage.” The index reads like a literal heap of trash–Limp/Dead Celery, Zucchini Tops, Cauliflower Hearts–yet the pages that follow tell another story. Leek roots become the soft bedding for votive candles. Sardine spines are deep-fried, dusted with smoked paprika salt, and reserved for industry guests. That limp dead celery is simmered slowly back to life with ground meat, white wine, and aromatics.
Chef Michael Fiorelli of the newly opened Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach shares Hamilton’s Italianate ethos of whole vegetable cooking. As we walk through Wednesday’s Santa Monica Farmers Market, he describes the cauliflower prep from last week’s menu. “We saved all the cauliflower leaves, sauteed them, and served them over polenta with just a little sprinkle of parmesan cheese. The reaction from people has been amazing,” he says, seemingly shocked that such a simple dish could garner such enthusiasm. “Everyone who comes to the restaurant says they have never eaten cauliflower leaves before, that they just throw them away.”
Fiorelli seems as delighted by the idea of serving cauliflower leaves as he is with the positive reception from diners. “Everyone is doing the whole animal thing right now,” he says, “but I like to do the whole vegetable thing. No one is going to come in and eat a nose-to-tail dinner and be able to do it at home–with vegetables, anyone can do it.”
The cauliflower dish began at family meal, a time when chefs are tasked with feeding a staff of hungry line cooks without affecting the restaurant’s bottom line. On that particular day, whole heads of baby cauliflower were set to roast in the wood-fired oven. Their leaves, which would have disintegrated in the 700-degree heat, were stripped and set aside. Fiorelli says it’s not uncommon for a dish from staff meal to end up on the menu. “If we like it, we figure other people are going to like it, too,” he says with a shrug and a chuckle. “We always ask ourselves, ‘What are we throwing away?’”
Elsewhere on the menu, carrot tops become pesto and fennel tops find their way into a relish that garnishes the restaurant’s house-made mortadella hot dog. This notion of extreme frugality in the kitchen is not limited to Fiorelli or his restaurant, of course, but what happens at Love & Salt is a reminder to think twice before tossing those chard stems in the compost bin. If nose-to-tail is the most humane way to consume animals, let’s honor our vegetables (and our farmers) with a similar stem-to-root mentality.