Produce Storage Tips
You've just received a box of fresh produce on your doorstep or returned home from the farmer's market--now what? Do fresh peaches go in a paper bag, or sit on the countertop, or both? Will garlic keep longer in the fridge (yes), but zap it's flavor (yes, sadly)? And, can you use that garlic that is now sprouting green (yes, but the flavor is not as impactful)? Preserving food without sacrificing quality or flavor can seem daunting, especially as we are all trying to cut down on food waste and plastic consumption. Below you'll find a convenient chart that can help you make some of those decisions. Click on the PDF link below to access the full guide:
Keep in mind, room temperature, humidity and innate perishability all play a role in keeping fresh food longer. There is no magic formula--for instance, our home doesn't have central air conditioning, so keeping an eggplant on the counter for a week (as suggested below), won't work for us and would probably only last a day or two without refrigeration. But this guide is helpful as a starting point.
Personally, I try to keep it simple, and reuse our bio produce bags to store greens (lettuce, leafy greens) and other vegetables in the fridge (green beans, peas, broccoli) for best results. Fresh herbs get wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a bag. Carrots and other root vegetables, like parsnips and turnips, always get bagged and refrigerated for the longest use in our house; otherwise, their water evaporates and they go limp in a couple days. Tomatoes are always ripened on the windowsill, citrus and other fruits (except stone fruits, until they are really soft and I'd like to preserve them longer in the fridge) go loose in the crisper. Potatoes and onions (loose, but separated) go in another crisper, unless I'm going to use them in a few days.
The key is to buy only what you think you will reasonably use in a week, or buy storage crops like potatoes and onions in bulk and have a place to store them properly (cool basement or garage, if there's not enough room in your fridge). There's no foolproof method, and there will probably be some loss from time to time--be gentle with yourself. If that happens, there's always soup or stock to make--or compost.
Preserving Sweet Corn
Preserving local vegetables for consumption in winter months is a time-honored tradition, and sweet corn, which is so abundant right now and really, really good this year, is one of the easiest vegetables to put up for winter use. It is hard to find the time, believe me, I know. Just get your hands on a couple dozen and you will definitely save money (one bag of frozen organic corn is around $3, right?), and you may even be enjoying Lancaster County sweet corn on your Thanksgiving table. Here's some tips to make it happen:
1. Preserve corn ideally within 2-6 hours of purchase. If you can't process it right away, keep it in the refrigerator or on ice (just not at room temperature). The sugars begin to break down quickly in any kind of heat.
2. Put the largest pot you have on the stove and fill it 3/4 full with water, enough so that you leave room for the ears and the water won't boil over once you've filled it with corn. Bring the water to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, shuck the corn, removing as much of the silk as you can without getting obsessed/going crazy. Trim tips that may have worm damage (it's commoner with organic corn).
4. Once the water is boiling, add shucked corn. Depending on your pot size, don't overfill. Bring the water back up to a boil. After it boils again, blanch for roughly 3 minutes.
5. Fill the largest bowl you can find with ice water. After blanching, add ears to ice water to stop further cooking. Depending on how much you are preserving, you'll need to replenish the ice bath water with ice cubes as you go. A good rule of thumb is to cool for the same amount of time that you blanch the corn (so if you blanch it for 3 minutes, cool for 3 minutes.)
6. Cut corn from cob at about 3/4 the depth of the kernel. I read on one site that readers recommend using a Bundt or angel food cake pan, so that you can put the ear in the whole and then catch the cut corn in the trough of the pan (smart!)
7. Place kernels in freezer bags or plastic containers. If using bags, make sure you get as much air as possible out the bag, and try not to overcrowd the corn too much in the bag. If using plastic containers, leave 3/4 inch space at the top of the container to allow for expansion during the freezing process.
If you're looking for more complete instructions and more tips about quantity, what type of corn to buy, how to make cream corn, etc., the Penn State Extension has a great PDF available, outlining pretty much everything you'd want to know about preserving corn.
Additionally, I've found a couple great recipes that feature corn, since it's so plentiful right now. Admittedly, we often prepare it as tried and true corn on the cob, with butter and salt because it make such a quick side to most summer meals, especially seafood (I'm dreaming of a bucket of crabs right now) and grilled meats. But you can grill it in the classic Mexican style, make a mean corn salad, put together some succotash, or make it into fritters, cold corn soup or fritters…so many possibilities.
Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil
Elotes (Mexican Street Corn)
Fresh Corn Salad
Corn & Jalapeño Fritters
Summer Succotash with Bacon & Croutons
Indian Spiced Corn Soup with Yogurt
Summer Swan Song
Maybe it's too early to bemoan the end of summer; but, undoubtedly, our time in these waning warm days is limited. It always is, even at the beginning. So to capture the best of summer at its peak is for the here and now, which is why I found myself Googling, "Can I make pesto with a mortar and pestle?" The (now obvious) answer: OF COURSE, yes. I find myself Googling a lot of questions that result in the obvious, simply out of the need for reassurance from the unseen multitudes on some things I'd be embarrassed to ask an actual person. (I won't admit to the half dozen other terms I looked up in the writing of this post). But, like many things, I found an easy answer to a culinary "problem" I've had since, oh, four summers ago, when my cheap-o mini food processor broke, and I stopped making, and thinking I could make, pesto.
This story really starts with a recipe that I had planned for the other night. It was Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil, from the New York Times Cooking site. I had been thinking about this pasta for a quick weeknight dinner in hopes that it would work out and I could recommend it to our Produce Box delivery customers, especially in these times of Too Many Zucchinis.
You'd think with all this produce around me day in and out that I would have everything I need literally at my fingertips; but as it happens, I do have it somewhere--in a box in a walk in cooler--just not in my home refrigerator. This happens all the time, and this is what happened after I assembled the other main ingredients in the dish: cut pasta, zucchini, pecorino, ricotta, lemon zest. And basil…which was not in the crisper drawer as I expected. The water for the pasta was salted and boiled merrily on the stove, the zucchini slowly sizzled in olive oil in the pan, and here I was missing an ingredient included in the very title of the recipe.
They say time waits for no one, and the same can be said for hungry, napless 2 year olds at 7pm on a Tuesday night. In this state, I scoured the crisper drawer and found a couple half-hearted bunches of cilantro. They would have to do. I picked through the leaves, doubting myself and faintly panicking about my lack of a back up plan. Pounding the cilantro with the pestle with a few pinches of sea salt, I then drizzled in some olive oil and found it easily mashed up into a pretty tasty paste that reminded me of pesto. And, at the end of it all, the meal was pronounced by the other adult in our household as "pretty good," which is praise enough for me. So, the cilantro worked, and I bet basil would be even better (do yourself a favor and make this recipe). Additionally, I discovered that I now want to put ricotta in most everything (it's not just for white pizza and lasagne anymore), and it got the gears turning…could I make pesto in the same way, eschewing the purchase of a mini food processor that I didn't have the time or money to buy, especially one that would probably languish in our cupboard until next summer?
Little did I know, this is how purists make pesto. Jamie Oliver, Serious Eats, and You Tube all say so. And of course this makes sense. Now that I think of it, I can't imagine the nonnas of Liguria back before Cuisinarts existed making it any other way, and I learned the name for the sauce actually stems from the name of the instrument (duh). I guess I always supposed that I wouldn't be able to grind everything down enough by hand, or that it wouldn't emulsify properly. Now, if you don't have a processor or a mortar and pestle, I've used a blender. If you don't have that, I'm sure we could brainstorm a solution involving a smooth stone and a sturdy bowl. (I happen to have a mortar and pestle thanks to my husband by way of his mother, who gave it to us to make Laotian Papaya Salad with it. Otherwise, I'd be improvising, too.)
Let this be a lesson that 1) you can always hack it: it may not turn out as planned, but you'd have to try pretty hard to make something completely inedible 2) the Internet will usually provide an answer, and some reassurance that someone else out there was wondering the same thing (and even took it a step further to create a YouTube video) 3) there are no stupid questions, especially when asking allows you to think of or look at things in a different way, or helps you find a solution to whatever keeps you from making your life a little richer, and summer last a little longer.
Classic Summer Pesto (serves 4) from Serious Eats
4 medium cloves garlic
Generous pinch coarse sea salt
3 ounces basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Pecorino Fiore Sardo (see note below)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons mildly flavored extra-virgin olive oil
1. In a mortar and pestle, combine garlic and sea salt and grind to a paste.
2. Add basil leaves a handful at a time and grind against the walls of the mortar; it's easier to use a circular grinding motion than to try to pound the leaves with the pestle. Continue until all basil leaves have been crushed to fine bits and have released their green liquid.
3. Add pine nuts and gently crush with pestle, then work into a paste with basil and garlic.
4. Add both cheeses and continue to use the pestle to grind into a paste.
5. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, working it into the pesto with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Pesto can be served with pasta right away, or transferred to a jar or container, covered with a small layer of olive oil, sealed, and refrigerated overnight.
A Note from Serious Eats: If you can't find Pecorino Fiore Sardo, you can use Pecorino Romano instead, but increase the Parmigiano-Reggiano to a full 3 tablespoons and cut the Pecorino to 2 tablespoons in that case. To serve this pesto on pasta, toss the sauce with the drained noodles off the heat, adding a little reserved pasta-cooking water to help bind it all together. Adding pieces of cooked new potato and green beans to the pasta is a traditional Ligurian touch: (Make this!) Pesto with Pasta, Potatoes, & Green Beans Recipe
Well, we made it. We've hit the midwinter mark; the days are getting a little longer, and we've dug out from the first (and hopefully only) major snowstorm of the year. The holidays have passed, and now there's only February to muddle through until Spring seems feasibly around the corner. Luckily, even February has its comforts--in our house, it's a fire in the fireplace on sharp, icy evenings, records skipping on the record player, and the oven ticking warmly and happily away in the kitchen. But February can feel a bit mundane when it comes to cooking with fresh food, especially when trying to eat seasonally and to work within a budget. By the end of it, you'd be happy not to encounter another root vegetable for another year--but then you still have March to get through.
I'll begin with the sweet potato--one of the more accessible of the root vegetable bunch. I've been simply roasting them, sometimes with or without butter, maple syrup or brown sugar, forever. But it's like finding gold to discover some new, complimentary flavors to change up something so time-tested.
This recipe for Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes is one that I can't get enough of. The flavors are so familiar and yet presented something unexpected--peppery, warm, sweet, unusual, even. And there are only three steps to get this done (recipe courtesy of NY Times Cooking):
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Peel 1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes (Jewel or Garnet yams are easily found this time of year, or try Covington Sweet potatoes) then roughly cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
2. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a small saucepan. When liquified, pour over sweet potatoes. Toss with 2 tsp. light brown sugar, 3/4 tsp. sea salt, 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.
3. Shake out potatoes onto a cookie sheet or roasting pan and roast for about an hour--I roasted mine at a much higher temperature for a much shorter amount of time out of necessity and they still turned out great. Just shake the pan and be sure to keep an eye that they don't burn.
If you've been searching for more creative ways to cook root vegetables, Bon Apetit magazine has an interesting collection available online. Or, you can always keep it simple by cutting up a medley of different vegetables--carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and onions are a good way to start--keeping them a similar size, but don't drive yourself crazy. Cube 1-2 tbs. of butter, add a tbs. of olive oil, salt, pepper, and some springs of an aromatic fresh herb like rosemary or thyme. Mix it all together, then toss it onto a baking sheet in a single layer, and cook at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes or so (vegetables should be able to be pierced by a fork when done). Then pour yourself a glass of wine, hunker down and dream of spring.
Leftovers & Easy Weeknight Dinners
In the week after a big holiday meal, the last thing you want to do is think about grocery shopping and complicated menus. Your fridge is brimming with leftovers, but a cold turkey sandwich doesn't seem appealing on a wet and rainy Tuesday, Day 5 after your Thanksgiving feast. As a novice cook and working parent of a two year old who often schedules his evening meltdown during dinner prep, I'm always looking for something nutritious, flavorful, and--most importantly--quick to get on the table.
I found this recipe on my new, favorite cooking app, via the New York Times Cooking column. Forgive me for the flagrant use of these recipes here--but I love the writing and vivid food photography that makes salad look luxe. And, so far, everything I've made has been a success. And there's nothing like knowing that you can generally count on a family of recipes for saving time in the kitchen.
This week, they have an entire section devoted to Thanksgiving leftover meal ideas, and this one made use of lots of raw, fresh vegetables-- many of them still seasonally available and, of course, found in This Week's Box. Thanksgiving Cobb Salad sounds a little underwhelming, but it's different enough from what you'd expect, I like that it makes use of fresh carrots, radicchio (you could substitute red cabbage), avocado, cooked turkey, hard-boiled eggs, and some leftover holiday herbs (fresh thyme and chives) that you probably already have succumbing to a slow, moldering fate in your crisper drawer.
I also found this will-definitely-make-again, go-to weeknight pasta dish, which features ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, with the addition of fresh kale, anchovy filets (I'm still obsessed with these!) and caper berries. I feel like I'm always trying to find something new to pair with kale, all winter long, and this delicious recipe hit all the marks--simple, richly flavored, satisfying, a little salty, and healthy. As a bonus, our aforementioned sweet and sometimes tyrannical 2 year old actually ate it!! A feat worthy of an extra exclamation point. So don't be scared off by the anchovies--they cook down and meld into the sauce perfectly.
If you're looking for something vegetarian, this last recipe came from a market customer and friend--an easy side dish perfect for a potluck but satisfying enough to make the meal. A favorite with her family, it's extremely versatile with its seasonings, and one I look forward to making this week:
Indian-Spiced Gratin (with Spaghetti Squash)
1 2-3lb spaghetti squash
2 cloves garlic
¼ c. chopped mushrooms (or really any veggie--a mushroom and jalapeno combo is our favorite!)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coriander seed, fennel seed, mustard seed, white peppercorn, and cumin seed
(Note: This is an Indian Spice Blend. You could also try an Italian Spice Blend, a Mexican blend, etc.)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced
1 cup sour cream (or 1 c. yogurt and 1 tsp. baking soda)
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cook/bake/microwave squash until skin can be pierced with a fork, then scrape squash out of its shell into a large mixing bowl. Throw away skin.
3. Using a mortar and pestle, grind up coriander, fennel, mustard, and cumin seeds, along with white peppercorns. Add to squash mixture with remaining ingredients. Stir well. Place in well-oiled baking dish and bake in oven for 30 minutes, until bubbly.
4. Add grated cheese or breadcrumbs on top (optional, but preferred!)
If there is a consolation to be found in December, beyond the holidays and merry-making and all of that, it's that it's finally time to turn on that oven full-time, and warm up the dark early evenings with conversation, a glass of red wine and family time in the kitchen. I'm very thankful for that. Cheers!
Beet & Fennel Salads
I don't know what it is about fennel that makes it using it in my weekday menu feel a little daunting. It's unique anise flavor seems to call for a special dish, but I found, like most things, that I was over thinking it. I realized this after attending a party where the host served it raw, cut into thin, crescent moon slices, and served with just some good olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. In Italy, it is commonly eaten raw after meals as a digestive, as a matter of course. Now that the evenings have cooled considerably but the days still feel like they're hanging on to the last washes of summer sunshine, I want something that is still crisp and cool, yet warming and earthy like these early root vegetables are.
Here's a great article on how to use fennel, both raw and cooked, with a few recipes attached. I also like idea of pairing it with beets and carrots, as this recipe does. The local carrots right now are so crisp and sweet, and I love the interplay of flavors that the beets and fennel lend to it. For purists, I also found a recipe for raw beet salad from Mark Bittman, which seems almost too easy. I also like some of the suggestions in the comments section, which suggest additions like raw carrots, jicama, fresh ginger, and even a South Indian riff that uses stir fried mustard seeds, curry leaves, and shredded coconut.
Looking for other recipes using your all those vegetables in your Box? Here's a few I found, some of which could also serve as warm ups to your Thanksgiving meal:
Made it: Salmon with Anchovy & Garlic Butter; Simple Sautéed (or Braised) Greens
It was, again, one of those nights. I felt in a rut with meal making, but it also was a long work day, and I needed to find something I could make fast. In general, I'd like to eat more seafood, but often feel daunted by the 1. prices, 2. origin or fishery method, or 3. mercury levels or whatever other potential toxin is sadly found in the world's seafood from the pollution of our oceans. Also, truth be told, I feel a little nervous about cooking fish--only in the sense that I feel it would be really easy for me to screw it up.
But salmon seemed a safe choice, and the fishmonger at Central Market had a nice tray of Irish certified organic salmon to sell, which I was pleasantly surprised to see.
Lately, I've been relying on the New York Times Cooking app for meal ideas. The recipe I quickly landed on for tonight's dinner did not disappoint. It helped, too, that it fell under the category of Fast Weeknight Dinners: Salmon with Anchovy-Garlic Butter.
It was so good, I wish I had taken pictures of it--but in my rush to get everything on and everyone to the table at once, while everything was still hot and our two year-old still compliant, I skipped the photo session. I'm sure the NY Times picture will do it better justice anyway.
I had a tin of sardines in my cupboard, bought over a year ago in a fit of nostalgia for my discovery of and newfound love for them while on our honeymoon to the Greek Islands. In my research for writing this, I learned that anchovies and sardines are indeed different; but I only found that out afterwards, so I can attest to the sardines (packed in olive oil) to be a worthy substitute. The anchovy-garlic butter was easy to make--although mine turned out to be more like a paste than something you could spoon over the fish as the recipe suggests. I'm sure more butter and patience would cure that mild deficiency in technique--but I really liked it that way, as a kind of thick rub blanketing the salmon. After clearing our plates, I honestly ate bits of the roasted fish skin, anchovy butter and charred capers out of what remained in the cast iron pan, it was that good.
If anchovies/sardines aren't your thing, I also ran across this easy recipe that looked just as delicious (also dairy & gluten free):
Roasted Salmon Glazed With Brown Sugar and Mustard
Along with the recipe for its suggested accompaniment highlighting the cool weather loving vegetables of the season:
Simple Braised Greens
For sides I cooked 1 cup of forbidden black rice in our rice cooker (2 parts water to 1 part rice, after rinsing the rice well), and then chopped up a head of rainbow chard (leaves and stems) and half a red onion, all of which I sautéed in olive oil and sea salt. In total, the cooking time for everything (I even cooked this while talking on the phone, which is no mean feat for me to multitask) was around 30 minutes.
A couple hours later, sitting in front of my computer and typing as I thought of this post, I began thinking about that afternoon in Greece--a once of a lifetime vacation, worthy of a honeymoon. I try to be adventurous with food while traveling--not that sardines are that exotic; after all, they are a pretty cheap and humble food as we know them here. But this particular way of eating them, as actual whole fish served on a plate instead of crammed in an oily tin, was a novelty for me at the time. I also noticed them on every taverna menu--they made up a typical, workday lunch--a given, just like traditional Greek salad and the perfect, crisp, homemade wine that were drank in every village, served chilled in little steel or glass pitchers.
We were on a small boat touring the famous pirate caves and rock formations of Kleftiko beach off the island of Milos, with maybe 2 or 3 other couples, the captain and his skipper. Lunch on these types of tourist cruises is included in the price--and this one was the most memorable for its simplicity, time and place. After snorkeling and snapping pictures, the captain cut the engine and passed around lunch. There was one plate of fried sardines, one bowl of Greek salad, one pitcher of ouza, and two forks. For everyone. What might seem strange and unsanitary here was presented with good-natured hospitality then--helped on by the fact that we were all on a boat, surrounded by the clear blue Mediterranean and cloudless sky, occasionally happening upon fishing villages suspended in time, with their multicolored house fronts carved into the cliffs. And, assuredly, every one of us on that boat passed around those two forks and bowls several times, each one of us taking a bite and passing it on until it came around again and was gone. There may have been a collective pause of uncertainty at first--but in the end, the camaraderie of the shared experience, the sunshine, ouza, and the swells rocking under the boat, memorably won the day.
So not only did I get a great meal from this found recipe, selected at random and during that weekday dinner decision duress that usually comes upon me at 4pm--I got a memory back, too, thanks to this little tin tucked back in the cupboard, like so many memories.
On Market: Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli and it's many close and distant cousins are making an appearance now--and the blue-green heads of brassica bunched and bound with a bright red band are always appealing at market this time of year. But if you want to change up your weekly menu a bit, while still getting all the great flavor and nutrients of broccoli, look for broccoli rabe (sometimes also called rapini).
Broccoli rabe, while also in the brassica family, is more closely related to the mustard plant. But it has edible leaves, slim stalks and little flowering buds similar to broccoli, and it's just as easy to cook. It's slightly sharp flavor and mild bitterness are a nice accompaniment to fattier meats like pork, but we've also eaten it with steamed clams or mussels and a baguette in these cooler months. You can also make classic Italian pasta dishes using nothing more than a good olive oil, spaghetti, fresh garlic, red pepper flakes and pecorino to keep it vegetarian, or add some pork or chicken sausages (Rooster Street Provisions at Central Market has excellent ones with interesting flavor combinations) or pancetta or white beans. The New York Times recipe column even features broccoli rabe on its own in a lasagna. But if you want to keep it simple, like I do 9.9 nights out of 10, all you have to do is:
Who We Are
Green Circle Organics specializes in local and organic produce, dairy and minimally processed, locally produced foods. Since 2003, we've been operating out of the historic Lancaster Central Market, providing a channel for farm fresh, organic and specialty foods to reach city dwellers and visitors. Check here for recipe ideas using the seasonal produce and other goods we sell at our market stand and for our Produce Box home delivery service.