It’s summer and time to make the most of what our own gardens and local farmers are producing. Sometimes it seems, however, that everything arrives at once! How do you store the bounty when it’s more than you can eat in one day? Perhaps a few tips on extending the life of certain types of produce will come in handy.
Artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower: To keep them from drying out, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel before storing them in a paper bag.
Asparagus: Use a flat bowl or glass that will fit the asparagus securely. Add a little water to cover an inch or so of the stems. If they tend to spread out or tip over, put a rubber band around the stems about halfway up. Put the container in a large plastic produce bag, bring the top together over the tips of the asparagus and secure. Keep refrigerated.
Arugula, lettuce, spinach, and other greens: Wash carefully by dunking several times in a large container or sink full of lukewarm water and remove. Repeat until the water at the bottom is clear. Spin dry and roll up in paper towels or a dish towels. (I save old stained ones for this purpose.) Put inside a plastic bag and store in the vegetable crisper.
Basil is tricky. It will turn black in the cold, so it can’t be refrigerated. Wet is also bad for it. Try placing it in a glass or plastic container with a small damp piece of paper and leaving it on the counter. Unfortunately, if the temperature is high, it probably won’t keep well. It’s best to use it up right away. You can blanch the basil for about 10 seconds, shock it in cold water, drain, and refrigerate until you’re ready to make pesto, though; and pesto keeps well.
Parsley can be rinsed, dried, and wrapped in a paper towel before placing in a plastic bag in the crisper. It will keep up to two weeks this way. Other herbs can be stored the same way, but won’t last as long.
Beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, parsnips, and other vegetables with greens attached: Remove the greens, as they’ll continue to draw moisture from the root. Refrigerate in a sealed container or plastic bag. Beets contain a lot of sugar and will mold quickly, whether raw or cooked. Consume them within a few days.
Greens from these roots: Except for carrots, don’t toss the greens – they’re delicious and nutritious! Store unwashed in a closed container. The same applies to kale, chard, collards, turnip greens, etc.
Corn shouldn’t be shucked until you’re ready to cook it. Even then, try roasting it in the husk for about 30 minutes in a 350º oven. The silk will come off easily with the husk, nice and easy. No big pot of boiling water to heat up the kitchen, either. Keep corn refrigerated in a plastic bag.
Whole cucumbers keep pretty well refrigerated. If you find yourself with part of a cucumber to store, put a piece of wax or parchment paper over the cut end, then a little piece of plastic wrap. Secure with a rubber band.
Eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini don’t need refrigeration for a couple of days unless they’re tiny, although they will slowly dry out at room temperature. For longer storage, refrigerate; but keep them dry.
Garlic, shallots, onions, potatoes: Store loose at room temperature. I keep garlic, shallots, and onions in a basket on top of the refrigerator. Potatoes can be stored in a paper bag; organic ones that aren’t treated to keep them from sprouting will do so long before non-organic potatoes. Never refrigerate potatoes.
Green beans, snow peas, English peas, sugar snaps – keep unwashed in a plastic bag or closed container in the refrigerator.
Green or colored peppers and chiles – keep in the vegetable crisper in a paper bag.
Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, and they keep well on the counter. If you have a large amount of cherry tomatoes, keep them spread out on a paper towel-lined platter. If they’re piled up, one bad one will infect its neighbors.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the more common vegetables. Eat your vegetables as fresh as possible, and use these tips to keep them in peak condition.