From the kitchen of Chef Tse: Are you storing your produce properly?

Taking advantage of the bountiful harvest - helpful storage tips

I love this time of year – it is usually the beginning of farmer’s markets, and a time when farm stands and grocery store aisles overflow with my favorite fruits and vegetables. Although we’re all sticking close to home, COVID-19 can’t stop all those amazing ingredients from ripening. Now is a great opportunity to support local farmers through a CSA or produce box delivery.

If you’re anything like me, the beginning of summer means loading up on everything that looks tempting—fresh peaches, heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, blueberries—the list goes on and on. But with ripe fruits and veggies, it can be hard to keep them fresh throughout the week and sometimes it can lead to waste.

I used to treat all fruits and vegetables the same—I placed fruits in a bowl on the kitchen table and I stuffed vegetables into any nook or cranny I could find in the refrigerator. 

I used to treat all fruits and vegetables the same—I placed fruits in a bowl on the kitchen table and I stuffed vegetables into any nook or cranny I could find in the refrigerator. But after throwing several things away because I either forgot about them or they became overripe, I decided to do some research on how to keep my harvest bounty longer and extend the life of my produce.

Proper storage

Before we look at specific types of produce, let’s talk about storage. Before my research, I thought a refrigerator was supposed to maintain an even 34 degrees throughout but was shocked to learn that temperatures can vary by as much as 5 to 10 degrees inside. To test this new knowledge, I purchased a refrigerator thermometer and placed it in several spots. Surprisingly, the top and bottom shelves toward the back were the coldest, often dipping slightly below 34 degrees. No wonder my lettuce was freezing on the top shelf! The warmest temperatures in the refrigerator registered on the middle shelf and toward the front of the top and bottom shelves.

Once I realized my refrigerator had these different “climate zones”, I started storing fruits and vegetables differently. Here’s how you can store your produce so it stays fresher longer.

Lettuce and Leafy Greens

Wash all greens before storing them in the crisper drawer. The crisper drawer offers more humidity than the shelf and prevents items with higher water content from drying out and turning moldy. Plunge your greens into cold water, spin them dry with a salad spinner, and then wrap them up in paper towels. Instead of using a regular plastic bag, try Green Bags (www.greenbags.com) that actually absorb a ripening gas, called ethylene, so it can’t spoil the produce. This will allow you to keep greens for up to a week.

The crisper drawer offers more humidity than the shelf and prevents items with higher water content from drying out and turning moldy. 

Tomatoes

Keep your tomatoes out at room temperature. They don’t like overly cold environments like the refrigerator. Eat them soon after picking or purchasing and if you absolutely must put them in the refrigerator because they’re getting too ripe, keep them on the middle shelf. Before consuming, let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes because it’s easier to taste the subtle flavors when they’re not cold.

Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots

Like tomatoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots don’t like cold environments. Kept too long in cold storage, fruit can dry out and cause the flesh to become mealy and unappealing. Keep them in a single layer on a plate at room temperature. Ripe peaches and nectarines will keep a day or two before starting to mold. To prolong their lives, put them on the middle shelf of the refrigerator until ready to eat. On the other hand, if your peaches aren’t ripe, you can speed up the process by placing them in a paper bag for one or two days. Make sure you check on them once a day to ensure no mold starts to grow.

Like tomatoes, peaches, nectarines and apricots don’t like cold environments. Kept too long in cold storage, fruit can dry out and cause the flesh to become mealy and unappealing

Berries

One of my favorite magazines, Cook’s Illustrated, recommends washing berries with a diluted vinegar solution and drying thoroughly before storing. Evidently the vinegar kills any potential mold spores that can cause spoilage. Personally, I don’t like to wash berries until I’m ready to eat them because they can become mushy. Avoid leaving them out at room temperature because mold can grow quickly within a few hours, rendering your gorgeous berries inedible. Instead, place berries on a paper towel-lined plate and keep them on the middle shelf of the refrigerator.

Herbs

Fresh herbs abound during summer months and taste great in all sorts of dishes. For herbs like parsley and cilantro, simply cut off a half-inch from the bottom of the stems and put them in a glass with an inch or two of water. Think of them like flowers: to keep them fresh for up to 5 days, refresh the water once a day and pull off any wilted or dead leaves. They look great on the counter, but you can also store them in the refrigerator.

Squash

Items like zucchini, summer squash and eggplants grow like crazy this time of year. My neighbor is often begging us to take some off her hands. Instead of storing them at room temperature, tuck them in the crisper drawer. The humid environment helps them stay fresher longer.

Citrus

Although citrus fruits are at their peak in late fall and winter, we still buy them to add acidity and brightness to our summer dishes. Keep yours in a single layer at room temperature for a little over a week. If you have a recipe that just calls for just zest, wrap the fruit in plastic wrap when you’re done and stick it on the middle shelf in your fridge. Once the fruit has lost its zest, it dries out quickly.

Onions, Garlic and Potatoes

Avoid keeping these items in the fridge or on your kitchen counter. Instead, find a cool dark place to prolong their life. All these items like to sprout, even after being picked, so keep them away from sunlight.

Mushrooms

To prevent your fungus from growing more fungus (i.e. mold), store in an open paper bag in the crisper drawer. The paper bag allows gasses and moisture to escape. Use them within three or four days of purchase for maximum freshness and flavor.

To prevent your fungus from growing more fungus (i.e. mold), store in an open paper bag in the crisper drawer. The paper bag allows gasses and moisture to escape. 

I realize this is a lot of information to digest all at once. But by following these simple tips, you too can extend the life of your produce and stop throwing money (and food) away.

Happy – and healthy – eating!

Recipes

Blueberry Lime Sorbet

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

Swap out the blueberries for raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries for a change of pace.

Serves 10

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

2 pounds (about 3 pints) fresh blueberries, preferably organic, washed and patted dry

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Zest from one lime

In a saucepan, heat water, sugar, and lime juice until sugar has dissolved. Let syrup cool to room temperature. In a blender, purée blueberries and syrup until smooth. Depending on the size of your blender, you may need to do this in two or three batches. Strain blueberry puree through a fine mesh sieve, pressing down on solids to release juice. Discard solids. Add lime zest to sorbet mixture and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

Freeze sorbet according to the directions on your ice cream maker. If you want a firmer texture once it’s done, place the sorbet once in an airtight container and freeze another 2 hours.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 91; Total fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Carbohydrate: 24g; Total dietary fiber: 2g; Protein: 1g

 

Greek Salad in Avocado Cups

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

Avocados are higher in fat than most vegetables. However, the fat is monounsaturated that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol while helping raising good cholesterol.

Serves 4

5 Kalamata olives, pitted and cut into quarters

8 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons red onion, minced

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

2 medium avocados, firm but ripe

In a medium bowl, add olives, tomatoes, feta, red onion, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, and olive oil. Cut avocados in half and remove pit. Using a spoon, remove almost all the flesh leaving a 1/2 inch border around the whole avocado. Roughly chop the avocado flesh and add to bowl. Mix ingredients together gently. Using a soup spoon, mound the mixture into the avocado half and serve.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 226; total fat: 20g; cholesterol: 12mg; carbohydrate: 11g; total dietary fiber: 7g; protein: 4g

 

Farmer’s Market Risotto

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

Risotto is not just a winter dish. I like to serve this version as a main course with a tossed green salad. Use whatever produce you find at the farmer’s market or toss in some shredded chicken for a heartier dish.

Serves 6

3 cups Italian parsley leaves, packed

4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups vegetable broth, divided

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup diced white onion

1 cup Arborio rice

1/3 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh peas, shelled and blanched

1 cup fresh green beans, blanched

Place parsley leaves and 1/2 cup vegetable broth in a food processor and puree. Pour the pureed parsley into a bowl and set aside.

Warm the remaining vegetable stock in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat another medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and let it get hot. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the risotto and sauté until it turns translucent and absorbs part of the oil. Pour in the wine, stirring until absorbed by the rice, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add one cup of broth. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until broth is almost completely absorbed by the rice, stirring often. Add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring often. Cook until rice is tender to the bite and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer.

Remove rice from the heat and add Parmesan, peas, beans and parsley puree. Mix until just incorporated. Serve immediately.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 246; Total fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 7mg; Carbohydrate: 35g; Total dietary fiber: 3g; Protein: 8g

About Chef Tse

After 12 years in marketing and sales, Tse shed her corporate responsibilities and headed to France. There she studied both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, finishing first in both disciplines. After graduation, she turned her sights on Parisian kitchens, completing a grueling internship at Le Restaurant Guy Savoy, a three Michelin-star restaurant. She then studied pastry at the internationally famous Pierre Hermé making macarons, cakes, and composed desserts.

When she returned to the U.S., Tse was a regular guest KATU Channel 2’s AM Northwest cooking seasonal ingredients with the hosts. Tse also became the Healthy Cooking Ambassador for Regence BlueCross BlueShield teaching cooking classes, filming videos, doing demos and creating recipes. She joined the Providence team in 2016, overseeing the operations at three cafes at Saint Vincent Hospital. Tse has also spent seven years teaching students at all three Portland culinary schools: The Art Institute of Portland's International Culinary Program, Le Cordon Bleu and Oregon Culinary Institute. She is now a Culinary Consultant for Sysco Portland where she helps restaurants with menu design, recipe development and staff training.

 

News & Information From Our Experts

Get the latest Covid-19 news, important information and updates from Providence experts.