Vegetable Tips from April Bloomfield

Little goes to waste in the kitchen of this award-winning chef, who uses carrot fronds as an herb and transforms mushroom skins into seasoning for a meaty steak.

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How to Play Up Your Produce

April Bloomfield made a name for herself with the nose-to-tail dishes she serves at The Spotted Pig in New York's Greenwich Village, but she is just as passionate about her vegetables. "It takes so long to plant the seeds and grow them, I like to respect the food," said the James Beard Award-winning chef on a recent visit to Food Network Kitchen. In practice, this means she plays up not just the flavors of her produce, but also their textures and visual variety. Although her techniques are subtle, taken together they deliver a delicious effect, as she demonstrates here.

Peel Portobello Mushrooms

"The outsides can be a little tough sometimes," says Bloomfield. "They get shriveled and dry — not appealing. Hold the mushroom in your hand upside down. There is a natural flap where the gills are, a loosey-goosey bit. Just pull and peel it off." She leaves most of the stalk: "Just take off the gritty bit." Discarded peels go into the dehydrator in her kitchen, and are then blitzed with other mushrooms to sprinkle on steak. "You can also dry them in a low oven," she says.  

Cut Zucchini on an Angle

"I like to cut anything that you make a light smash from with one thick end and a slightly thinner end," says Bloomfield of her asymmetrical cuts. "The thin end breaks down with cooking. It kind of smashes itself." With zucchini, "trim carefully — just the top and tail. Don't waste any of it. It's all edible." To make oblique cuts, slice the zucchini down the middle. "Then move the veg back and forth, left to right. You can go on an angle." Bloomfield employs the technique with carrots, potatoes and turnips, too. "You can fry them with a little garlic and thyme, add the lid and make a smash. They become nutty and slightly sweet." 

Turnips Don't Need to Be Cooked

"Little Tokyo turnips are perfect raw," Bloomfield says. "And you can eat all their greens. Just make sure the ratio of greens to white is balanced. Give them a light scrub and cut them in half," says the chef, who also serves the vegetables seared on the stovetop. "If the greens are a little wilty, put them in ice water and leave them there for 20 minutes. You can do radishes in the same way."

Save Your Carrot Tops

"I'm known for nose-to-tail cooking," says Bloomfield. "When I roast carrots, I like to leave on a little of the greens and the carrot tails, which turn crispy." She makes pesto from the feathery tops, processing them with Parmesan, nuts and olive oil. "In summer I use almonds. In winter I use walnuts. Try pecorino if you can't find Parmesan." The carrot tops can also be left raw. "Taste one first," says Bloomfield. "I take the bright and vibrant green parts to use as garnish." 

Store Heirloom Tomatoes Stem-Side Down

If a little natural bruising occurs, that's OK. "You don't eat that side," says Bloomfield. As for the cracks on heirlooms: "They are natural. It doesn't mean it's a bad tomato. You just need to cut away the dry bits," she says with an expert flick of the knife. "If you have a mixture of heirlooms and have to stack them, put the heaviest on the bottom."

Wash Your Vegetables Well

You don't have to peel produce, but make sure you get it clean, says Bloomfield. "I use a scrub brush. To test, eat one. Once you cook them, you can't go back to clean them."

Recipes from April Bloomfield

Now that you've got down the techniques for prepping produce, you're ready to try one of Bloomfield's recipes from her new cookbook, A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden. Follow her step-by-step for Greek Salad. Or jump right into her Kale Polenta or Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata.