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How To Waste Less Food And Embrace More Vegetarian Recipes With Anna Jones

Along with eating more plant-based food and vegetables, reducing the amount of food we waste is one of the most impactful things we can do to support the environment. As we know, food wastage is a huge problem as we often discard things because of use-by-dates, lack of planning or simply overbuying on weekly food shops; we’ve all been there, but by introducing a few simple changes to the way we cook, can help make a real difference.

In an effort to reduce our food waste and add more vegetarian dishes into our diets, we caught up with award-winning cook, author and expert in plant-based cooking Anna Jones to discover the small but mighty shifts we can make in the kitchen.

How to waste less bread

Buying good-quality bread means it lasts longer. If possible, this means opting for bread made at a bakery with fewer ingredients and no preservatives. Storing your bread in a wooden bread bin and/or in a sealed cotton or paper bag will give it the longest life.

Freeze bread
The most simple and obvious way to extend the life of your bread is to freeze it. Slice and tear it into pieces or blitz into breadcrumbs and store it in (reusable) bags until you need it – this goes for cakes, muffins and pastries too.

Add bread to soup
Tear stale bread into soup 5 minutes before serving in the style of the Tuscan soup ribollita, adding olive oil to finish. The bread gives a brilliant creaminess, which might sound weird, but it’s genius – trust me!

Make croutons
To elevate soup or salads (see Panzanella recipe), cut bread into cubes or small pieces, toss in a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in a hot oven at 180oC/160oC fan/gas 4 for 5–10 minutes. Cook them until they’re golden and crisp on the outside but still chewy inside. Leftover croutons can be kept for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Make a Panzanella salad
Panzella is a bread salad traditionally made with tomatoes and olive oil – and the bread mops up all the juices. Mix well-salted, chopped fresh tomatoes with a bit of red wine vinegar, add torn stale bread and finally add lots of olive oil and basil. A winter version can be made with roasted roots in place of the tomatoes.

How to waste less cheese

The carbon footprint of cheese is high (only beef and lamb are greater), so if you do buy it, make sure you follow these simple steps.

Storing cheese
Always double-wrap your cheese in waxed paper, parchment or beeswax wrap and then put it in a glass or plastic container lined with damp kitchen paper. Next, cover the cheese and put it in the top of the fridge, where the temperature is the most constant. This way, it’ll keep happily for as long as it takes for you to eat it.

The cheese trick
I learnt this tip from cheese queen Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie – it’s a really clever trick. Put two standard sugar cubes in the plastic box (see above) with the cheese, then seal and refrigerate it. The sugar helps regulate the atmosphere inside the box, keeping the cheese fresh. Over time, the sugar will start to melt, though hopefully, you’ll have used the cheese before then. If not, clean the box, replace the cloth and put the cheese back in with new sugar cubes.

Best-before dates
I largely ignore the best-before dates on cheese. Instead, I use my nose, taste buds and instinct to tell if it’s ok. If mould forms, it can be cut off, and if the rest of the cheese still looks and tastes good, it’s ok to eat. Cheese rarely goes off. If the flavour gets too intense for you as the cheese ages (blues and soft cheeses can), then use it for cooking with or mixing with other milder cheeses to temper it.

Parmesan rind
Your old Parmesan rind might look unpromising, but it’s the most concentrated hit of flavour and makes the perfect secret weapon; I use a vegetarian Parmesan. Lending umami an indefinable, extra level of savouriness, add this to vegetable soups such as minestrone, ribollita or stews.

How to waste less salad

Bagged salad is one of the most challenging things regarding waste. It’s expensive, hard to store without damaging, and it goes from edible to unappetising in almost the blink of an eye. I tend not to buy it unless I know I can use it almost immediately. Instead, I go for sturdier whole lettuces like little gem, cos and radicchio; this tends to work out cheaper.

Storing salad
If you do buy a bagged salad, store it at the top of a salad drawer or in the fridge with nothing on top of it and eat it quickly once open. Or store as follows: line a container (ideally glass) with a piece of kitchen paper and place the leaves inside, being careful not to pack them too tightly to avoid bruising. Cover them with another sheet of paper, pop the lid on and store them in the fridge. The paper and cloth help absorb extra moisture, keeping your greens fresher for longer.

Reviving salad
If your salad does wilt, don’t throw it away. You can restore a droopy leaf to its original perkiness simply by refreshing it. First, remove any brown leaves, then refresh the rest in a bowl of cold iced water for 5–20 minutes with a few slices of lemon and a sprinkle of salt. Then lift the leaves out of the water and allow them to drain or spin in a salad spinner before serving or storing as above. If it’s past its best but still ok to eat, you can use it as follows…

Freezing salad
You can freeze bags of salad and use them directly from the freezer and add to soups or stir-fry. Obviously, they are not suitable for eating raw once frozen.

Make pesto
Rocket/watercress/peppery leaves can be used like basil to make pesto. Once made,
pesto can be kept under oil in the fridge for at least a week, prolonging its life even further.

Add to soups
All green lettuces, watercress and rocket, can be added to soup (blended or chunky), and you can even make them the hero of the dish. Transform watercress or rocket by combining them with a bit of cooked potato, hot water and a dash of cream to make a simple watercress soup. Or make a refreshing chilled soup with delicate leaves, like cos and romaine blended with cucumber, herbs, avocado, radishes, yoghurt and finally, top it with olive oil.

Want to eat more veg?

Think about textures
Texture is often forgotten in cooking, but to me, it is just as key to a good plate of food as flavour, particularly in vegetarian and vegan food. I think about how children respond to food – we are tuned into texture just as much as flavour. Toasted seeds tossed into a salad; charred, oil-drizzled bread next to a bowl of soup; the crunch of some peppery radishes inside a soft taco. Just as much as flavour, the texture hits the taste buds and tells your brain that this food is delicious and leaves you satisfied.

Be experimental
Vegetable-centred cooking is often associated with light flavours and steamed varieties, but it needn’t be. Many vegetables are much better when hit with some serious flavour or put on the grill, just as you might find with a steak. For example, try charing your broccoli on a griddle, then dressing it in honey, lemon, soy and chilli or cutting through a head of cauliflower to make steaks, brushing it with mustard and then griddling until it’s soft through.

Last tip: When food shopping, don’t overbuy
It’s pretty straightforward this one, but before heading to the supermarket, check what is in your cupboards and fridge. Plan meals that will go with and use up what you already have, and take the time to really think about how many mouths you’re feeding before you bulk buy. This way, you’ll avoid wasting food and instead, can have fun with cooking by experimenting and trying out new dishes.

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