Food & Home

Tips, Tools, and Vegetable-Forward Recipes to Make Your Produce Last Longer

Tips, Tools, and Vegetable-Forward Recipes to Make Your Produce Last Longer

We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to feed ourselves and run our kitchens more efficiently in the last several weeks. Many of these tricks and strategies (like maximizing pantry goods and using up leftovers) will still serve us once we resume other routines again. An important piece of our self-sufficient kitchen puzzle has been figuring out how to make produce stay fresh for as long as possible, which buys you some time between shopping trips and helps reduce waste. We’ve gathered some tips for making the most of your produce haul, along with some ideas for what to do with those ingredients that have seen better days. Plus, our favorite veggie-loaded recipes.

THE TIPS

HERBS

The main reason most home cooks don’t bother with herbs is because they are notorious for wilting or drying out in just a couple of days. They have sort of a Goldilocks temperament: They thrive only if it’s not too dry and not too moist.

To achieve that just-right level of humidity, rinse and dry (preferably in a salad spinner, but laying them out on a kitchen towel also works). For storage, there are two options: You can gently wrap them in a kitchen cloth (or a paper towel, if that’s what you have) and keep them in airtight bags in the fridge. Or you can place the herbs in a jar with about an inch or two of water in the fridge and cover the top loosely with a bag.

About to Go Bad? Blitz any combination of soft herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, chives) in a blender or food processor with olive oil. Freeze the mixture in ice cube trays, then transfer to an airtight bag in your freezer. When you’re ready, you can use those herb cubes to finish stews, soups, and sautéed veggies or even to brighten up salad dressings.

LETTUCES

Like herbs, lettuces want to be moist and dry all at once. But they’re not as persnickety as herbs. If you wash, dry, and store them in an airtight bag with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth, they should stay fresh for several days (and it makes pulling off salads on the fly oh so easy). Sturdier lettuces, like radicchio and romaine, will keep longer than delicate leafy greens, like arugula and butter lettuce, so triage accordingly and plan on eating the tender lettuces first.

HEARTY GREENS

Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, and mustard greens will keep for a long time if properly stored in the fridge—follow the same procedure as above for lettuces—but they can be bulky and take up a lot of valuable real estate. If your end game is to serve them sautéed or braised, you might consider batch cooking and storing them cooked.

Gently sauté them with olive oil until they’re super tender. Toss in some aromatics and spices (grated garlic, chili flakes, and lemon zest is always a winning combination). Pack in an airtight container. And top with a generous glug of olive oil. It should keep for at least a week and is excellent with eggs, pasta, or polenta or on toast.

Alternatively, you can steam the greens, wring out all the excess liquid, and freeze in small bundles for future use.

About to Go Bad? If your greens are wilting and they’re still on the stem, try trimming about an inch off the ends and setting them in a jar of cold water, like a bouquet. You can leave it on the counter for a few hours or in the fridge overnight. The stems should absorb the water and spring right back.

STURDY VEGGIES

Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, celery, carrots, radishes, turnips, and rutabaga all fare well in the fridge for two weeks or more—especially if wrapped in a way that limits their exposure to air. Reusable bags or beeswax wraps work great, but more cumbersome or oddly shaped veggies will be fine wrapped in a kitchen cloth. Carrots, radishes, beets and turnips will last longer when separated from their greens (they draw out the moisture from the root). Those greens are edible and can be washed and stored as described above.

About to Go Bad? Similar to hearty greens, carrots and celery will bounce back after a soak in cold water. If they seem beyond saving, toss them in the freezer along with other cooking scraps (onion butts, parsley stems, and garlic peels) and save them for making stock. Turnip and beet greens are a welcome addition to your stash of sautéed greens, and you can add carrot tops to pesto.

LESS STURDY VEGGIES

Mushrooms, eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, artichokes, and tomatoes won’t last as long, but proper storage can stretch their lives a good deal. Zucchini and bell peppers like an airtight bag. Mushrooms need to be covered, but they get slimy when exposed to too much moisture, so consider stowing them in a cloth or brown bag for breathability. Tomatoes (technically a fruit, we know) are best on the counter as they tend to become mealy in the fridge.

About to Go Bad? These would make an excellent confit—an age-old preservation technique where you submerge something in olive oil and simmer low and slow until meltingly tender. It makes for a lovely antipasto spread and keeps in the fridge for two weeks, plus your newly infused oil is great for dipping crusty bread into.

FRUIT

If you’re waiting for fruit like peaches, plums, melons, and avocados to ripen, then you’ll want to keep them on the counter. If you’re worried about missing that perfectly ripe window, you can buy yourself a couple of days by moving them to the fridge.

In general, most fruits last longer when refrigerated. Citrus does especially well, staying juicy for weeks longer in the fridge than on the countertop. Berries, too, though they mold very easily, so make sure to dry them completely after rinsing.

Bananas are perhaps the exception as they tend to be better at room temperature.

About to Go Bad? Overripe bananas may develop a mushy texture, but the flavor becomes even more intense and sweet, so definitely don’t toss them. Use them in banana bread or pancakes, or peel and freeze them for smoothies.

OUTSIDE OF THE FRIDGE

If it’s not in the fridge, it should be kept in a cool, dry, and ideally dark place (cellars were the traditional spot for keeping these items, but a basket on a lower shelf in your pantry will do). Onions, potatoes, garlic, and winter squash fall into this category and are significantly less likely to sprout, turn green, or mold in these low-moisture conditions. Though ginger is often lumped into this category, it stays juicier in the fridge.

THE TOOLS

  1. Stasher Reusable Half Gallon Storage Bag
    Stasher Reusable Half Gallon Storage Bag goop, $20
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  2. Caravan Boat Stripe Towels
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  3. Natural Linens Boutique Organic Cotton Produce Bag Set
    Natural Linens Boutique Organic Cotton Produce Bag Set goop, $38
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  4. Hawkins New York Medium Goass Storage Container with Oak Lid
    Hawkins New York Medium Goass Storage Container with Oak Lid goop, $40
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  5. Studio Cue Bee's Wax Food Storage Paper
    Studio Cue Bee’s Wax Food Storage Paper goop, $22
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  6. Stasher Reusable Sandwich Bag Set
    Stasher Reusable Sandwich Bag Set goop, $24
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THE RECIPES

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