As August comes to a close, we find ourselves knee-deep in the midst of the growing season. Produce just keeps rolling in: ripe tomatoes straight off of the vine, sweet and pungent onions, earthy carrots and beets, creamy potatoes, crunchy peppers, fragrant basil, and the first sugary bites of winter squash.
Hopefully you are finding yourself enjoying late summer’s bounty with gusto. If you are, you have also probably found yourself chopping, shredding, mixing, blending, squeezing, and otherwise preparing vegetables, whether for good eating now or in the middle of winter. And with all that chopping comes the vegetable discards: the skins, the tops, the butts, the not-so-perfect halves, and the stems. What do you do with all those scraps?
If you’re already composting your kitchen waste, I commend you! Composting allows organic matter to break down in the presence of oxygen and microbes, instead of in a landfill where it decomposes anaerobically and creates methane gas. But what if I told you that your vegetable scraps could have one more purpose before returning to the Earth? It’s true, folks: they can be turned into a product that is delicious, nutritious, free and easy. I’m talking, of course, about homemade vegetable stock!
You can find vegetable stock at the grocery store, of course, but all it takes to make your own is less than an hour of “work”, and some pre-collected vegetable scraps. Plus, it’s just as convenient to keep homemade stock in your freezer as it is to pick it up at the grocery store. And it’s far less expensive.
Simply collect your vegetable scraps as you cook. You can place them in a bag or container in your freezer. Just about any edible piece of a vegetable can be made into stock, but a few common ones are: onion skins and tops, garlic skins, carrot and radish tops, kale stems, cabbage leaves, tomato cores, herb stems, broccoli and cauliflower stems and leaves, celery butts and leaves, and squash tops and bottoms. I don’t peel most vegetables when I cook, but if you do, peels are also great additions (think winter squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, etc.)! The types of vegetables you use will influence the flavor and color of the stock, so I recommend using what you already love to eat.
Once you’ve collected enough scraps (a gallon bag or bucketful, it really doesn’t matter the quantity), you can take them out of the freezer, and place them into a large pot. Fill the pot with water so that it’s just covering the scraps (measurements don’t matter, but this is a good ratio to go by). Heat the ingredients to a simmer, and cook until the water turns slightly cloudy and tastes like the veggies. This takes less than an hour in most cases, although you can easily cook it in a crockpot for the whole day while you’re at work! After it has cooled, you can strain it into containers using a colander or strainer, and mix in some salt, pepper, or herbs if you so choose. Then freeze what you won’t use right away. Homemade vegetable stock keeps in the fridge for about a week.