Monday, January 28, 2008

Freshness - Storing your Stuff

As a family of mainly produce eaters, we buy a lot of produce. I love to open up my refrigerator and admire the cabbage, or sniff the oranges - just to know that I have 'what to to cook up' at hand that day. Realistically, that means always keeping a fair supply of carrots and celery (for soups and stir-fry's), plenty of onion and garlic of course, as well as my favorite, fresh ginger, not to mention in the winter a selection of winter squashes and root vegetables (you already know I love my root vegetables). Add to that list some salad greens and a few peppers and some sort of cooking greens and you can see that my refrigerator always has a range of veggies that have different storage requirements to keep them fresh and ready to use.

And then there's Hachavah Ha'organit and my beautiful box of veggies that arrive freshly picked for my pleasure. Of course, organic veggies already taste better than their conventional counterparts, but how to keep the at peak flavor is the question of the day. The issue is ethylene, the gas emitted by some fruits and veggies which can cause other veggies to go bad. Proper storage in your refrigerator can keep your veggies fresh and happy for a few days.

Onions, garlic, butternut squash, sweet and white potatoes are easy - no refrigeration, which eases crowding but they do need air and dry conditions to stay in good shape. Try to keep them in open baskets (away from heat) with a good amount of air circulating and put a bit of toweling at the bottom of the basket to absorb moisture and prevent rot. As well, make sure that you get to the bottom - put the freshest stuff at the bottom and move last weeks' onions to the top of the pile. These vegetables are best kept away from light as well so that they don't start growing roots, which impact their flavor - once a vegetable starts concentrating on growing, it becomes tougher, tends to dry out and just change due to the work involved in sending out roots. That said, it doesn't mean you have to throw out those sprouting onions and potatoes. Cut out the 'eyes' and other sprouted parts and use them - they just may not have the same bang for the buck and occasionally there will be off or bitter flavors but in a pot of soup with other things, not such a big deal.

What about greens, you say...If you look in my refrigerator, you'll note a lot of unidentified plastic bags with various lumps and bumps in them. I tend to wrap much of my greenery in cloth towels to keep them fresh and long lasting. All salad greens, fresh herbs, celery and cooking greens get wrapped. BUT there are some caveats. Tender greens - young bunches of arugula, cilantro, certain kinds of lettuces, do best with a light toweling, even just paper toweling wrapped around them. They thrive being wrapped but if they're overwrapped, in a heavier towel, they just start to wilt. After they're wrapped, pop them into a plastic bag and fridge them and they'll be fine for a good few days. Cooking greens, romaine lettuce and other hearty greens, including parsley, will be fine in towel and plastic bag. Celery absolutely needs plastic or it just yellows and a lighter towel just helps keep the ribs crisper and leeks and scallions do well with a light towel and bag to keep them from getting slimy as the days pass. Air your veggies out while in plastic - a few holes in the bags will keep air circulating better.

Tough guys like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, do fine just in plastic - but don't wait too long to cook them or moisture will start to build up in the plastic that begins to break the vegetables down, yielding brown and unattractive produce - let alone no as tasty anymore. Peppers do well in plastic too - and if you're planning on using them quickly, just leave them out for a day or two, especially if you're house is as cold as mine.

Speaking of what should be left out, or in defense of ripening properly. There is nothing sadder than vegetables and fruits that are not given their due and allowed to ripen on the vine. They will never improve really, how can they, once they've been ripped from their 'homes in the field.' But we can allow the flavors to continue to develop or at least, give ourselves the best chance to eat produce at its peak of flavor. Store your unripened fruit - pears for example - out in the open, letting them lose their intense hardness and refrigerate when they're a bit softer. Of course, there are those who like their pears hard...

A few thoughts on the tomato - buy them in season. Summertime is tomato time and those reddish looking guys that you buy during the year, will not have the taste or the texture that you're really looking for. Don't refrigerate your tomatoes - they don't improve with refrigeration. Actually, studies show that they lose flavor with refrigeration. If you must buy your tomatoes out of season, stick to cherry tomatoes which will be tastiest. Don't buy them in bulk and eat the when they're the most intoxicating to sniff.

Another recipe with my next post.

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