By Chef Rich Baringer,
With farmers’ markets bursting with the best of Bucks County, many of us are getting our share of the great veggies grown in our area. Buying these tasty, nutritious local foods is well worth the money, but it’s always good to know how to get the most bang for your buck.
When it comes to produce, that means choosing the best produce available and knowing how to store it so it lasts until you need it. Locally grown vegetables tend to last much longer than supermarket produce because they haven’t traveled hundreds or thousands of miles.
So here are some tips for choosing just some of the things that are available at the market this time of year and how you can keep them fresh for as long as possible. Note: if you are buying organic, a few spots where an insect has taken a bite aren’t bad; that means the farm is really not using pesticides.
BEETS Try for beets that still have healthy greens attached (probably picked that morning). If only the root is available, make sure they are firm and the skin is smooth. Beets with greens should be refrigerated in a loosely sealed plastic bag. Without the leaves, beets can simply be stored in your crisper drawer—for months.
BOK CHOY Leaves should be bright green and crisp. Stalks should be bright white with no brown spots. Store in a loosely sealed plastic bag in your fridge. Don’t wash until ready to use it.
BROCCOLI Stalks should be firm, without any cracks. The florets should be dark green, not yellow or brown. The cut end of the stalk should not be brown or dry. Refrigerate broccoli in an open plastic bag in the crisper drawer. (Revive limp broccoli by trimming the ends and standing it in a glass with about an inch of water.)
CARROTS For best flavor, choose carrots with the greens still attached. The carrots should be firm, not rubbery. Keep them in the crisper drawer in a partially open zipper bag. To prevent the carrots from going limp, remove the greens before storing.
FENNEL Look for white and firm bulbs with very little discoloration. The stems should be crisp and the fronds bright green. Store in fridge in a zipper bag.
GARLIC We’re fortunate that we can find both fresh and cured garlic from our local farmers. You’ll often see fresh garlic in the spring and early summer. Simply store it in the fridge and use it as you would cured garlic.
When buying cured garlic—which shows up in the fall around here—the cloves should be held tightly together and feel firm. If you see any sprouts, move on. Store at room temperature in an open container that allows for air circulation (a basket is good). Don’t remove the “paper” until you’re ready to use.
HEARTY GREENS (kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, etc) Leaves should be dark green and crisp, not wilting. Refrigerate in an open plastic bag. Try to soak up any excess moisture on the leaves before storing. (I store them wrapped loosely in paper towels to absorb moisture.) Don’t wash until you’re ready to use.
What to do with greens that are a little past their prime, or you won’t use in cooking? Throw them in the food processor with a little water, then put in an ice-cube tray. The frozen cubes can then be used in smoothies all winter long.
MUSHROOMS In the supermarket, try to buy them loose, not pre-packaged. Look for mushrooms with caps that aren’t damaged and avoid those that seem dry or discolored. Keep them in your crisper drawer in a partially open zipper bag. (Pre-packaged mushrooms should be kept in their containers.)
ONIONS Skins should be dry and papery. The onion should feel hard with no mold on the skin. Avoid those with sprouts. Store them in a cool, well-ventilated spot away from light. Don’t store in the refrigerator.
PEAS Whether you’re buying sugar snap, snow or shelling peas, they should be crisp and green with no shriveling or drying. Snap and shelling pea pods should be plump with peas. Refrigerate in a partially open zipper bag.
POTATOES Make sure that there are no sprouts or greenish tinge under the skin. Don’t choose any that have soft or black spots. In the supermarket, buy loose potatoes rather than in bags. Store in a paper bag in a cool, dry place away from onions.
RADISHES Try to buy radishes with the greens still attached. As is usually the case with other vegetables, healthy greens mean fresh radishes. If the greens are removed, make sure that the radish is firm and smooth, not cracked. Store in a partially open zipper bag. Remove the greens before storing.
TOMATOES Local tomatoes will always have the best flavor and be the freshest. Look for tomatoes that smell “tomato-y” and feel heavy for their size. If you have to buy supermarket tomatoes (although I’m not sure why you would have to in season), choose those on the vine.
Never refrigerate tomatoes—cold ruins the taste and texture. Even cut tomatoes should be tightly wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature. If the stem is attached, leave it there and store at room temperature. Stemmed tomatoes should be kept on the counter stem-side down.
Rich Baringer is chef/owner of Dinner’s Done Personal Chef Service. Rich graduated from the Culinary Business Academy in Atlanta, is a member of the U.S. Personal Chef Association. He owns Dinner’s Done Personal Chef Service and feeds clients all over Bucks County delicious food. Rich grew up in Haycock Township and has lived (and eaten) in Bucks County his whole life. He now lives in Blooming Glen Village with his wife, Mary Beth, his son Jake, and their pup, Teddy. For more information about Dinner’s Done PCS, contact Rich at 215.804.6438, email@example.com or check out his website.