Thursday, June 14, 2012

Greens, Greens and Nothing But Greens!

"Greens, greens and nothing but greens" is a line sung by the Wicked Witch in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods". The first time I heard that line I was a High School freshman sitting in the school auditorium watching our spring production. Who knew that it would end up having some profound impact on my life!

It's now that gorgeous time of year where produce is at it's perfect peak and greens are everywhere! CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) bring local organic produce to our urban tables. Farmers Markets are overflowing with fruits and vegetables. Fresh herbs are everywhere and practically begging to be brought home! So it's only natural that we can hardly resist the urge to over indulge.

This year, I'm fortunate enough to be participating in a CSA through my office in partnership with Great Performances and Katchkie Farms (which incidentally runs the Sylvia Center - a fabulous nonprofit teaching NYC kids about eating healthy).  I purchased a half share but as my other half is currently out on maternity leave, I start the first few weeks with a full share! Exciting right? Except...that's a lot of veggies. There's only so much I can cook in an evening (even I have my limits folks) so the question arises what's the best way to store your vegetables so they last?

Well the answer depends on the vegetable. Some heartier varieties require little more than tossing them in your vegetable crisper (the turnips we got in this week's shipment for instance). But some require a bit more care. Here are some of my favorite storage methods to help keep your produce at it's peak.

Lettuce/Delicate Greens
I like to leave the leaves attached to the head until I'm ready to use them. But when I get home I give the lettuce a quick shake and a rinse to get rid of any bugs (organic means no pesticide which means pests can sneak in!). Then I wrap the whole head in a damp paper towel and place in a baggie but don't close it all the way. You want to allow it to have some breathing room!

Beets/Turnips and Other Hearty Roots
I find this technique works for anything that has both an edible root portion and leaves.
DON'T wash these items before storing. Remove the root portion leaving about an inch or two of stem. Place in a plastic bag and seal - squeezing out as much air as you can. Store in your crisper drawer and they'll stay good for about 3-4 weeks.  For the leaves - you can wrap these in damp paper towels and store in an open baggie just like the lettuce.

Hearty Greens (kale, cabbage, etc...)
DON'T wash before storing as water will increase spoilage time.  Place the leaves in a baggie (I like to chop mine so they're quicker to prepare and fit better in the baggie) and squeeze out as much air from the bag when sealing. It will keep in the fridge for about 5-7 days.

Delicate Herbs (Cilantro, Dill, Parsley etc...)
The best method for storing herbs that I've found is to wrap them in damp paper towels, place in a baggie and seal almost all the way. As long as they are wrapped in the damp paper they'll keep for the better part of a week!

Basil is one of the hardest herbs to keep fresh. The best method I've found is to place it in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the top and place in the fridge. But even that will only keep it good a day or so. The best way to keep basil if you need it long term is to freeze it.  For this method, you should pick the leaves from the stems, wash and dry them VERY well. Lay them flat on paper towels (i do this in a few layers of paper towel), place into a baggie and make sure it is sealed very very well. Lay the baggie flat in your freezer and remove the leaves as you need them. The color will not stay a vibrant green but the flavor will be nearly as good as fresh!

Surprisingly these vegetables do not keep long! (Well..maybe it's just surprising to me!) The best way to keep them is to wrap them in damp paper towel and place in a perforated baggie. These veggies need air circulation to stay fresh so the perforation is important (or just don't seal the bag).

Zucchini/Summer Squash
Similar to above but you can skip the damp paper towel on these. And be gentle! The flesh on these can bruise pretty easily.

The rule of thumb with fresh berries is don't wash them till you are ready to eat them! Place them on a paper towel in a tightly sealed container but try to consume them pretty quickly! If you need them longer - wash, dry and hull them (remove the green leaves and the inner white portion near the top), toss with a little bit of sugar and place in a baggie. These should be used within 1 year of freezing.

So I think that about covers everything I got in my CSA or at the Farmer's Market this week! Stay tuned throughout the summer for more tips! Happy Veggie Season everybody!

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