05 maggio 2021

Like a MasterChef show! Zero waste benefit cooking

When it comes to Italian cuisine, I'm strict: don't mess with the traditional dishes, a tiramisu should look and taste like a tiramisu. But I've gone beyond my limits for a vegetarian benefit meal.

Last February, I read an article in the Amsterdam West newspaper about the digital cooking classes by lady cooks from the Lodewijk van Deysselbuurt, a neighborhood in Amsterdam Nieuw West. The challenge in these classes was to prepare an entire menu with unsaleable vegetables from the market on Plein ’40-’45. The event was organized by the volunteers from Cascoland who are committed to this neighborhood in various ways. On the four Tuesdays of Ramadan (April 20 and 27 and May 4 and 11), Cascoland prepares free, waste-free vegetarian meals for the poor in the neighborhood. With great enthusiasm I signed up to get cooking.

Not just fruit and vegetables
There is more to a festive meal than just fruit and vegetables. That's why I came up with a major spring cleaning campaign for private individuals. They could bring anything left unused in kitchen cupboards to the greenhouse: sugar, honey, nuts, herbs, legumes, rice and whatnot.  

Manager Angelo Galantino from Appetito Novitalia with his donations

I also approached the Italian wholesaler in Amsterdam, Appetito Novitalia, and they donated generously: a large bag of whole wheat flour, gluten-free spaghetti, cans of beans accidentally labeled as lentils, frozen croissants, mozzarella, breadsticks and much more. All fine stuff that would otherwise have to be thrown away, because they could no longer be sold. A shame, right?

Master Chef Mystery Box
On King's Day, I found myself in the greenhouse kitchen for the first time. I had two large gas burners at my disposal, a few boxes of zucchini and tomatoes, two nets of onions, many light-green thin peppers, 4.5 kilos of pasta 'casarecce', a can of extra virgin olive oil, Appetito beans, some chickpeas and 'farro', or spelt, from Tuscany. It felt like I had ended up on a MasterChef show and had to cook with the ingredients from a Mystery Box! Within five minutes, I had to figure out what to make as a main and side dish.

In the morning, a Surinamese lady made fifteen liters of vegetarian soto soup and an Indian lady made our mouths water with a delicious rice dessert with mango and almonds. I in turn heard all those beautiful courgettes shout 'turn us into a frittata di zucchine, a zucchini omelet!'. But the pasta was also eager to participate. So I made a pasta dish with fried zucchini, sweet onions and fragrant mint from the garden. First, I cooked the pasta very al dente, fried the courgettes in cubes and at the end, I added the onion rings. Just like a frittata, but with pasta instead of eggs.
The 7 virtues
For the side dish, I was inspired by a traditional dish from Abruzzo, a region on the Adriatic side of the Apennines east of Rome. That's where you find the city of Teramo, where it's an age-old tradition to make a kind of clearing soup at the beginning of May. The diligent housewife, also known as a farmer's wife, has to empty the pantries to make room for the new harvest. She cooks the leftover legumes (beans, lentils, peas, fava beans) and collects leftover pasta. I always have bags of pasta in the cupboard that are just not enough for one dish, how about you? She adds these, together with the first beautiful vegetables and herbs from the vegetable garden, to a large pan of soup that is eaten with family, neighbors and friends. The name of this dish is 'le virtù' or the virtues, because it contains (or should contain) 7 kinds of legumes, 7 kinds of pasta and 7 kinds of vegetables and herbs. Seven, just like the virtues.
With this traditional soup in mind and the many small amounts of diverse ingredients available to me, I made a delicious summer 7 virtues salad as a side dish.

At around 6:00 p.m., the volunteers filled the containers and bags for the families who had ordered the meal. Stichting IMD, which coaches young people from the neighborhood, delivered the meals to people who have difficulty walking. Almost 70 people were able to enjoy a complete, waste-free vegetarian meal on King's Eve with dishes from Suriname (the soto soup), Italy (the pasta and the salad) and India (the rice dessert with mango sauce).

There will be more cooking on May 4 and 11. Colleagues who've cleaned up the kitchen cabinets and have food left are more than welcome to bring it to the greenhouse at Van Moerkerkenstraat 83 in Amsterdam West. On Saturday May 8, I'll be there myself to receive the donations. Free parking available in the street.
7 virtues salad by Marina
Boil the spelt and the chickpeas or other kind of pulse you have, each separately.
Cut the courgettes and the light-green thin peppers into very small cubes (brunoise) and cut the tomatoes into larger cubes (mirepoix).
Cut a lot of mint in thin strips (chiffonade).
When all the ingredients are ready (mise en place), mix everything together with the beans. Add the zest and the lemon juice, olive oil and salt to taste.

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