getting the most out of market produce
Now that the bulk of summer markets are now open and bustling, for me too comes a fridge with forgotten bags of greens, roots limp from too much time in the vegetable crisper, and too many tomatoes. Listed below are my favorite ways to breathe new life into that produce.
Conventional wisdom says to save the ends and peels of your vegetables, freeze them and make veggie stock from them when you have the in quantity. I don’t really like how veggie stock tastes—or at least I’ve never had one that doesn’t taste muddy or overly tomato-y, and I loathe bags of frozen vegetables that fall on the floor every time I open the freezer door.
Instead, just stop peeling your vegetables. Scrub them instead. It takes just as long to really scrub a carrot as it does to peel it. And when your vegetables are fresh the skins are rarely unpalatable so there’s really no need. Additionally, the bulk of micronutrients reside in the skin or close by, so eat them instead of throwing them away.
No recipe needed.
No matter how hard I try inevitably a bunch of greens spends too much time in my fridge and looks a bit worse for ware. Often those greens are a few leaves from a variety of bunches. A quick sautee with wine and garlic, is my favorite way to use up these random ends of a bunch and go with anything you can imagine—as a side dish, with scrambled eggs, on top of beans for lunch. Note: that this is best for hearty greens—tender lettuces wilt down to nonexistence. To bring lettuces back, just soak in cool water for 30 minutes to revive.
One of my favorite ways to cook greens and make dinner fast as lightning. The white wine and chili flakes give surprising lift to rich, deep flavored greens. I often top grits or rice with these leaves. Also good alongside any roasted meat.
- 1 bu hardy greens (anything from kale, chard, cabbage or a mix)
- 1/2 C white wine
- 2 cloves garlic, shaved or minced
- pinch chili flakes
- 2 pinches salt
- Cut the greens into ribbons
- Cut the garlic
- Heat a frying pan until screaming hot
- Add a glug of neutral or olive oil
- Add the greens (be careful they will pop as the water in the cells hits the hot oil)
- Let fry in the oil until lightly brown
- Add the white wine, garlic, chili flakes and salt
- Sometimes the wine will light as it evaporates off; just blow it out
- Let the wine reduce until almost dry and then serve
- Just before serving taste and add salt as desired
Similar to the greens, combine all the single carrot, lone radish, random beet, missing celery root and make a quick root bake. Unlike greens it is hard to revive a bendy root—soaking in cold water just doesn’t seem to work. Instead, eat them where you wont miss the crisp texture.
- All the single roots from the fridge
- 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- any random woody herbs you have around
- a glug of olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Heat the oven to 400F
- Clean the veggies and cut to desired size (the larger the pieces the longer they will take to cook)
- Toss with olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and transfer to a roasting pan
- Roast uncovered until the vegetables are tender and have a crispy skin (about an hour)
- Remove from the oven
- Squeeze the garlic from its papery skin and lift out the herbs
- Serve with a squeeze of lemon or aioli on the side
Not So Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs add an undeniable punch to any dish and are worth their weight in gold in any kitchen. But they also go limp quickly and are easily the most often wasted item in my fridge. In order to extend their life, I take two tacks. One, store them properly to keep them around longer. For broad leafed herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, mint) store them in a vase of water like you would flowers—changing the water as frequently. For woody herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay) store them the fridge in a plastic bag wrapped in dry paper towel. The plastic will keep them from drying out, the paper towel will absorb the humidity from the herbs as they resperate and balance the atmosphere in the bag.
Once the herbs have gone a bit limp (looking mostly at the broad leafed varieties here), whiz them in the blender with some salt, squeeze of lemon and olive oil. I used to be fixated on making pestos, but found that I rarely had the cheese, nuts or garlic that the recipe called for. To make do, I started making this simplified version and found that I was soon spooning herb oil over all sorts of things and got the same bright kick of fresh herbs. Herb oils will keep for months in an air tight jar in your fridge.
I use herb oils all the time in the restaurant. Sometimes we make them because we have too much parsley and need to save it before it yellows or turns slimy. Sometimes we make it because it is the perfect way to add brightness to any number of dishes and is more easily controlled than fresh, chopped herbs.
Try drizzling over a soup, any sort of roasted root, eggs in the morning or grilled fish. Basically anything that needs a little “pick me up”.
- 2 bu parsley
- any other herbs you want (mint, chives, tarragon)
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 2 C olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- Load a food processor or blender with the all ingredients putting the parsley on the bottom
- Blend until smooth adding a splash of water as needed
- Taste and add more acid and salt as desired.
- Don’t be scared if it tastes hot and bitter. The olive oil takes on a bitter note when warm as it always gets when the stress of a blender is inflicted upon it.
Roasted Tomatoes for the Freezer
A few years ago, after waiting months for the first cherry tomato off the vine, I promised myself I wouldn’t waste a single one. I love making sauce and juice but, by far and away, my favorite way to preserve tomatoes to use in the winter is to roast them until super concentrated and freeze. These frozen tomatoes can be tossed with just-cooked pastas for a quick dinner on top of toast with mozzarella for an appetizer and on and on. This works best with cherry tomatoes but you can use any variety. The wetter the tomato the longer it will take to roast down.
- 5 lbs tomatoes, cherry or a mix
- ¼ C olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- Heat the oven to 350F
- Toss all ingredients in a roasting pan and stir to combine
- Place uncovered in the oven and roast until the juices release and then reduce to a syrup
- When you drag a spatula across the pan and it leaves a trail, they are done (this can take a few hours)
- Allow to cool, transfer to freezer bags or Tupperware, and freeze for later use