Sustainable Cooking with Mary June Thompson, Celebrate Knoxville. (November 21, 2014) A hot trend in the food world is known as “nose to tail” eating, which makes for less food waste and contributes to sustainable agriculture by utilizing the entire animal in some way. While this is not necessarily practical (or appetizing) for home cooks, there are ways to be inspired by this movement in your own kitchen.
Americans in particular are prone to throwing out perfectly usable food items, like the pumpkins we use to decorate for autumn, bread that’s a little past its prime, and the other half of the onion that we didn’t need for a particular recipe.
One of my favorite ways to utilize some of the miscellaneous leftover items in the refrigerator is to make a hash. Hash is incredibly versatile in what ingredients it can be composed of, and this earthy dish works equally well for breakfast or dinner.
My latest version was based on the odds and ends I had left centered on a distinctively autumn theme: Sausage and Sweet Potato Hash. As this is more of a working model than a set recipe, I will outline the general steps and offer alternate ingredient suggestions so the hash can be tailored to ingredients that are on hand, as well as to suit different tastes.
I had one small sweet potato in the pantry, so this was the basis for my hash. Cut the potato into approximately ½-inch cubes. Peel if desired. (I left the peeling on for the extra nutritional value it offers.) In a large skillet with a lid, heat a tablespoon or so of water over medium heat until it is very hot and bubbling. Add the potato cubes and cover with lid. Cook until the water has evaporated and the potato is tender, tossing once or twice during cooking to prevent sticking. Photos by Mary June Thompson.
In the refrigerator, I had some leftover (raw) breakfast sausage, some shallot pieces, and part of an Anaheim pepper. I chopped the shallot and pepper and added these to the pan, along with a splash of olive oil (to prevent sticking) and the crumbled sausage. I also added a pinch of cumin, smoked paprika, and ancho chili powder to the pan–to complement the southwestern component of the spicy pepper– along with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, cook until the sausage is browned and the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. I served mine with fried eggs and toast on the side, and a generous splash of Cholula hot sauce. It was absolutely delicious.
There other food items that might commonly be odds and ends in the refrigerator that would work well in this hash. Part of a leftover onion would work just as well as a shallot, and any pepper—from sweet bell to hot jalapeño—can be used to suit individual tastes from mild to spicy. Have half of both a sweet and a hot pepper? Use both! Throw in a handful of leftover baby spinach for a heartier (and healthier) hash. Don’t know what to do with that one random slice of bacon left in the package? Add it to the hash, or chop it up and substitute it for the sausage. Baking a ham for the holidays? Diced ham would also be a tasty component of a hash.
The point is to be creative and use what you already have. I had a wonderful, healthy breakfast composed of items that might have otherwise gone to waste or been discarded had I not found a secondary use for them. And that’s a meal that you can really feel good about!
Mary June Thompson has been cooking and entertaining for nearly two decades. During this time, her cooking style has expanded and evolved from typical American fare to encompass many different types of cuisines, including Italian, French, Greek, Asian, Mediterranean/North African, and Latin American. Focusing on obtaining the best available ingredients and preparing fresh, healthy dishes with bold flavor defines her cooking style, regardless of cuisine.