Get the Most Out of Your Market Produce


By Abra Berens

With the bounty of the spring and summer markets arriving, so too comes a fridge with forgotten bags of greens, roots limp from too much time in the vegetable crisper, and too many tomatoes. Listed below are my favorite ways to breathe new life into that produce.

Vegetable Peels

Conventional wisdom says to save the ends and peels of your vegetables, freeze them and make veggie stock from them when you have the in quantity. I don’t really like how veggie stock tastes—or at least I’ve never had one that doesn’t taste muddy or overly tomato-y, and I loathe bags of frozen vegetables that fall on the floor every time I open the freezer door.

Instead, just stop peeling your vegetables. Scrub them instead. It takes just as long to really scrub a carrot as it does to peel it. And when your vegetables are fresh the skins are rarely unpalatable so there’s really no need. Additionally, the bulk of micronutrients reside in the skin or close by, so eat them instead of throwing them away.

No recipe needed.

Wilty Greens

No matter how hard I try inevitably a bunch of greens spends too much time in my fridge and looks a bit worse for ware. Often those greens are a few leaves from a variety of bunches. A quick sauté with wine and garlic, is my favorite way to use up these random ends of a bunch and go with anything you can imagine—as a side dish, with scrambled eggs, on top of beans for lunch. Note: that this is best for hearty greens—tender lettuces wilt down to nonexistence. To bring lettuces back, just soak in cool water for 30 minutes to revive.

Sautéed Greens
  • All the random hearty greens in your fridge (kale, chard, spigarello, radicchio, endive, cabbage, dandelion, -radish and turnip tops)
  • ½ C white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • pinch chili flake (optional)

Remove the ribs from the leaves if very tough; Cut the greens into ribbons; Slice the garlic thinly; Heat a frying pan until screaming hot; Add a glug of neutral oil; Add the greens, salt, and chili flake if using and let pop and fry; When you see the leaves go bright green, give a good stir; Add the wine and garlic (if it flames up, just blow it out); Cook until the wine is reduced, taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Limp Roots

Similar to the greens, combine all the single carrot, lone radish, random beet, missing celery root and make a quick root bake. Unlike greens it is hard to revive a bendy root—soaking in cold water just doesn’t seem to work. Instead, eat them where you wont miss the crisp texture.

Random Root Bake
  • All the single roots from the fridge
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • any random woody herbs you have around
  • a glug of olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 400°F; Clean the veggies and cut to desired size (the larger the pieces the longer they will take to cook); Toss with olive oil, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and transfer to a roasting pan; Roast uncovered until the vegetables are tender and have a crispy skin (about an hour); Remove from the oven; Squeeze the garlic from its papery skin and lift out the herbs; Serve with a squeeze of lemon or aioli on the side.

Not-So-Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs add an undeniable punch to any dish and are worth their weight in gold in any kitchen. But they also go limp quickly and are easily the most often wasted item in my fridge. In order to extend their life, I take two tacks. One, store them properly to keep them around longer. For broad leafed herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, mint) store them in a vase of water like you would flowers—changing the water as frequently. For woody herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay) store them the fridge in a plastic bag wrapped in dry paper towel. The plastic will keep them from drying out, the paper towel will absorb the humidity from the herbs as they breathe and balance the atmosphere in the bag.

Once the herbs have gone a bit limp (looking mostly at the broad leafed varieties here), whiz them in the blender with some salt, squeeze of lemon and olive oil. I used to be fixated on making pestos, but found that I rarely had the cheese, nuts or garlic that the recipe called for. To make do, I started making this simplified version and found that I was soon spooning herb oil over all sorts of things and got the same bright kick of fresh herbs. Herb oils will keep for months in an air tight jar in your fridge.

Parsley Oil

Substitute any other herb or a mixture for this. I also use mostly neutral oil because sunflower or vegetable oil are cheaper than using all olive oil. Add the olive oil at the end and remember that when warmed olive oil can tend to be bitter, let the mixture rest for 10 minutes before eating to let the olive oil cool and mellow out. 

  • 1 bunch parsley, stems and all (or any other broad leaf herb)
  • 1 lemon (sub 2 T vinegar)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 C neutral oil
  • ½ C olive oil

Roughly chop the parsley; In a blender combine half the parsley, the lemon, salt and neutral oil; Whiz until roughly chopped; Add the rest of the parsley and blend until pretty smooth; Add the olive oil and blend until evenly textured; Taste and adjust seasoning or acid as desired. 

Abundant Tomatoes 

A few years ago, after waiting months for the first cherry tomato off the vine, I promised myself I wouldn’t waste a single one. I love making sauce and juice but, by far and away, my favorite way to preserve tomatoes to use in the winter is to roast them until super concentrated and freeze. These frozen tomatoes can be tossed with just-cooked pastas for a quick dinner, on top of toast with mozzarella for an appetizer, and on and on. This works best with cherry tomatoes but you can use any variety. The wetter the tomato the longer it will take to roast down.

Roasted Tomatoes for the Freezer
  • 5 lbs tomatoes, cherry or a mix
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt

Heat the oven to 350°F; Toss all ingredients in a roasting pan and stir to combine; Place uncovered in the oven and roast until the juices release and then reduce to a syrup; When you drag a spatula across the pan and it leaves a trail, they are done (this can take a few hours); Allow to cool, transfer to freezer bags or Tupperware, and freeze for later use. 

Abra Berens, Executive Chef of Stock Café at Local Foods and co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, MI, is a member of Green City Market’s Junior Board. Read more about Abra’s efforts to combat food waste through her cooking here>> 

Photo: Credit: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott, Bon Appetit

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