Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Cooking

What do you get when you combine local, seasonal meals with an effort to reduce waste? Necessity. Or, more specifically, pumpkin Swiss Chard lasagna.

Surrounded by summer's bounty, you can throw together a tasty home-cooked, local meal with minimal effort. These are the dark days of winter though and require some real exertion.

I spent the last two days baking and pureeing winter squash like a madwoman because I over-bought the big beauties in the fall and they are ready to be "processed" or composted now. Guess what we're having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next month? Yup, pumpkin in some form or other. Determined to move beyond pumpkin muffins, pancakes, bread and pie, I scoured the Internet for recipes and came across the idea for pumpkin lasagna. That appealed to the waste warrior in me as I've got a fridge full of ricotta and alfredo sauce left over from Christmas eve that is about expire. I also planted far too much Swiss Chard in my garden this year - too much because I don't like chard. Don't ask why I planted it. Just know I won't do it again. :) Put that and three different recipes for lasagna together and you've got a darned good dinner.

What's so special about my menu? Two things.

First, I used ingredients that otherwise would be thrown out. Over 40% of our country's crops are lost or thrown away, according to Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. That's a whole mess of food and doesn't include the unidentified mush at the back of our fridge that we toss out weekly. I recently overcame the habit of buying loads of what looked good at the market and then chucking most of it when it rotted before we remembered to eat it. At our last Green Book Club meeting, the group talked about how investing in food might make us less willing to waste it. The fact that I grew the Swiss Chard and pureed all that squash did, indeed, incite me to use it. So did yesterday's completion of a garbage challenge. So did my increased general awareness that waste is not a good thing - for anyone or anything.

Second, as Sharon at Casaubon's Book, recently opined, we need to become a nation of cooks. We must learn to be flexible in the kitchen - to use the ingredients available, be willing to make substitutions willy nilly, and to create a dish unique to the season and locale rather than a carbon copy. It takes real investment and a little bit of bravery to put together a home-made meal drawn from local, seasonal ingredients. Most "seasonal" recipes aren't seasonal and invariably include short-cuts of processed food. This leaves us in uncharted territory. For my lasagna, I followed no single recipe but combined several and made a leap of faith that the meal would be edible. To be fair, my dish also included a processed ingredient: store bought sauce. Because it was left-over and about to go bad, I'll give myself an exemption. ;-)

Necessity, or at least the desires to avoid waste and eat local, will lead to some inventive cooking. Gotta run. I have the mother of all pumpkin seed piles waiting to be roasted. Necessity calls.


Burbanmom said...


What's your all-time favorite pumpkin recipe? I have one pie-sized pumpkin left and need to make something out of it before it starts turning to mush. If you can slap a link up I would super-appreciate it!


- Erin

adrian2514 said...

Does anybody know about this site ( ) ? I have seen other environmental sites with carbon calculators like yahoo and tree huggers, but I am wondering what the deal with is, is it credible? I saw they also published a list last month of the top ten greenest cities ( ). Does anyone know if this site is better than say WWF site? Fill me in

I took their carbon foot print test and it was pretty interesting, but they said that I put out 4.5 tons of carbon while another test gave me like 15 tons? I think I trust’s test a little more (because my score is lower). Does anyone know about any other tests?

Green Bean said...

Erin: I wish I had one all time favorite. I basically stick pumpkin in everything these days - I've got so much of it.

Pumpkin soup is always delicious and, because it is super easy, it's probably my favorite. Here's how I make it:

Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat, add 1 small chopped onion and cook for 3-5 minutes, til onion is soft and golden.

Add pureed pumpkin (however much you have on hand), a bay leaf and/or sprig of thyme or sage, some sugar (2-3 tsp), and salt and pepper to taste. Add broth or apple juice until you reach the texture you like. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add some milk if you like - heat through but do not boil.

Remove bay leaf and sprig of thyme or sage. Puree again if your kids will pick out the onions like mine.

If you're looking for a straight up recipe instead, here's a link to Pumpkin Risotto which is really yummy. Be generous with the pepper, though.

adrian2514: I don't know anything about but it looks like a great site. Thanks for sharing it. :)

From what I've read, the most accurate carbon calculator is supposed to be the EPA's. See

I notice, however, that the earthlab one lets you save and track your info as you make changes to your life, which is obviously very cool! and motivating!


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