10 tips for optimum vegetable storage

fallon & byrne leeks fallon & byrne onions

Last Saturday I visited my dear old Dad at his swanky new apartment in Canberra. We decided to head out and explore the Canberra Farmer’s markets.

I’m certainly glad we did. Apart from some mushrooms that were super expensive, everything was very reasonable and the range and quality of the fresh fruit & veg would put some markets in Barcelona to shame – a very auspicious beginning to vegetarian month.

As we made out way home with a large bag bursting with veggie goodness, I started thinking about the best way to store our veg and decided to do a bit of research. Consulting the father of food scientists – Harold McGee, Mr Vegetable- Nigel Slater and my own studies and experience, here are the results.

But before we get to that, I also have a ripper of a recipe for you today. Definitely the most ‘meat like’ thing we’ve eaten so far in vegetarian month – a simple 5 ingredient eggplant parmigiana. It takes a lot longer than 10 minutes to make but is well worth the effort.

10 tips for optimum vegetable storage

1. select the freshest produce
Probably stating the obvious here but the fresher and better quality your veg, the longer it’s going to last.

2. minimise physical damage
Cuts and bruises damage the cell walls of your veg and open them up to spoilage by microbes. The bad news is that once you have one rotten piece of veg, it passes on to it’s mates so if you do notice any damaged veg, best to get rid of them.

3. dirt is good
St Nigel is a fan of leaving dirt on root veg like carrots and jerusalem artichokes. I find unscrubbed potatoes tend to be longer lasting and hope one day to be growing my own to really test out the dirt theory.

4. avoid cutting or trimming
A whole pumpkin or squash will keep for much longer than a cut piece. This is all about exposure to the air and to microbes. So best to leave trimming and chopping until the last minute.

5. select the best storage temperature
Just like some people love the heat and others, like my sister batgirl, are chasing an eternal winter going from ski season to ski season, different vegetables have different preferences for climate.

Mostly it comes down to the prevailing temperature where they grow. Root veg and onions store better at cooler temperatures but warmer climate veg like tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), squash, cucumbers, capsicum (peppers) and beans can actually loose flavour, develop brown spots and have their texture effected if you pop them in the refrigerator.

Unripe avocados develop brown spots and fail to ripen further if placed in the fridge. So best to store these in a cool dark place.

The other thing to consider with temperature is that lower temperatures, like the fridge, slow down microbial growth and decrease enzymic activity. So if your veg isn’t sensitive to the cold, generally the lower the storage temperature, the longer they’ll last.

6. protect from exposure to light
Sunlight can promote sprouting in things like potatoes so unless you’re trying to encourage ripening in your veg, best to store them in the dark.

7. minimise dehydration
One of the biggest contributors to aging in veg is loss of moisture. The air in your refrigerator tends to be very dry. So higher moisture things like celery or spinach or lettuce are best stored in plastic bags or containers to minimise moisture loss and wilting.

8. avoid condensation & sweating
Of course too much moisture can also be a bad thing and can encourage things to go slimy. Paper towel can be useful to absorb excess moisture without allowing things to get too dry. Nigel recommends avoiding covering cut pumpkin surfaces with cling wrap as they tend to sweat. He just leaves it uncovered and lets the surface dry out and then trims and discards this before the next use.

Mushrooms are probably the most delicate petals when it comes to sweating. Best to store them in a brown paper bag in the fridge. If you do have to buy them from the supermarket in a plastic tray, take them out and free them when you get home.

9. beware the banana
I know, I know. Bananas are still classed as fruit, but they can have an impact on vegetable storage. Bananas produce heaps of ethylene gas when they are ripening which stimulates ripening (and over ripening) in anything they snuggle up to. So if you want your avocado to ripen more quickly, let it shack up in a paper bag with a banana. But if you don’t want it to over ripen keep them in separate spaces.

10. DON”T refrigerate your tomatoes
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, this is it. Of all the vegetables, tomatoes are the most dramatically damaged by chilling injury. Not only do they lose their lovely fragrance, but the texture goes mealy and ick. IF you don’t believe me, do a little experiment yourself and put some tomatoes in the fridge and keep others out for a few days and then taste side by side.

eggplant parmigiana

[5 ingredients]
eggplant (aubergine) parmigiana

serves 4

Adapted from My Cousin Rosa by Rosa Mitchell.

I normally don’t bother to salt my eggplant but for some reason Rosa convinced me and it did make for super fast eggplant cooking.

It’s up to you if you salt but if you do I find it best to layer the eggplant on a ceramic plate rather than in a colander as my colander still has salty rust marks from some enthusiastic salting many years ago.

If you were after a shortcut you could substitute in a large jar of tomato passata or pre-made tomato pasta sauce.

Lovely with a crunchy, bitter leaf salad but also excellent the next day as a sandwich filling.

1 large onion, peeled & diced
2 large eggplant, sliced into rounds about 1.5cm (1/2in) thick
2 x 400g (140z) can tomatoes
1 bunch basil, leaves picked
2 large handfuls freshly grated parmesan cheese + extra to serve

Cook onion with a little olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat until soft but not browned.

Meanwhile sprinkle eggplant layers with salt and allow to stand while the onion cooks.

Add tomatoes and a few basil leaves to the onion. Crush tomatoes to break up and simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes to an hour – you just want the flavours to come together – no need for the sauce to reduce. And don’t worry about seasoning it – there will be plenty of salt in the eggplant and cheese.

Preheat oven to 220C (425F). Generously oil a large baking tray. Pat eggplant dry with paper towel, removing as much salt as possible. Place eggplant in a single layer on the tray (you may need 2 trays) and drizzle generously with more olive oil. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, turning once or twice until eggplant is very soft and golden brown on both sides.

Place a layer of tomato sauce in a medium baking dish. Layer with eggplant slices, top with more sauce, a few basil leaves and some cheese. Repeat the layers until everything is used up finishing with a generous sprinkle of cheese. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and everything is hot and bubbling.

eggplant parmigiana-2

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{ 24 comments }

Mark @ Cafe Campana May 6, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Some great tips. I am guilty of many of the afore mentioned crimes against veg. Canberra is good for produce, you are correct. There are also some good markets at Hall and Gundaroo too.

Eric Normand May 7, 2010 at 3:20 am

Hmmm. . . I didn’t know about the dirt. Thanks for the tip. And that looks like a great recipe.

Laura @PARING DOWN May 7, 2010 at 3:24 am

Thanks for the tips.

I’ve always put both tomatoes and cucumbers in the fridge. This tip alone will save me some money.

Thanks!
Laura

Yoni May 7, 2010 at 6:12 am

Thanks for the nice recipe, I hope to try it this weekend.

Matt May 7, 2010 at 7:13 am

Great tips! Vegetable storage has always been a problem for me. I’m printing out this list and putting it on the front of my refrigerator at once!

Erin S May 7, 2010 at 8:17 am

Great list. How I do love leeks. In America, the grocery store produce workers worry about the roots and sometime trim them off into the leek itself, where it dries out and separated, making it nearly useless. Such a shame. With the root intact and a little dirt left they keep longer also.

YardEdge May 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Wow…had no idea about bananas and tomatoes…but will tomatoes not spoil faster if I leave them out in the open? I live in Jamaica, a very hot and humid climate?

Kelsey @ Yellow is the Color May 7, 2010 at 8:59 am

Oh man, eggplant is my current obsession — my friend just made us eggplant naan pizza the other night and it was SO GOOD. I’m going to have to try your recipe this weekend!

Wei-Wei May 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thanks for the tips! I eat lots of veggies all the time, and these storage tips would be useful for the future.

I love your blog, by the way. I’m still a high school student and I live with my parents, but I want to learn more about cooking, starting with the most basics! Your blog is a great resource for both tips and recipes. It’s awesome! :D

Wei-Wei

Simon Food Favourites May 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm

thanks for sharing the tips. it’s great to know. i tend to put my tomatoes in the fridge but i’ll avoid that now and taste the difference. :-)

Johanna GGG May 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

That eggplant parma looks great and I love the sound of it in a sandwich.

I am guilty of storing tomatoes in the fridge – my mum keeps them out on the benchtop and I have been noticing the difference when I go to her place – should probably do the same! But always am amazed that supermarkets sell mushrooms sweating away under the plastic.

Thanks for the information about leafy greens in a bag – I have heard about this many times but not about the reasons behind it

Chacotaco May 8, 2010 at 1:15 am

Now I have someone to back me up in kitchen arguments about leaving the produce out of the fridge!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef May 8, 2010 at 1:29 am

Beautiful recipe. I like how you’ve baked the eggplant instead of frying it to death.

I lashed out and bought myself some of those Tupperware containers with the wavy bottoms and closable airholes, and they’ve done wonders for the keepability of my fruit and veg in the fridge. Totally worth the expense in my opinion! Thanks for the tips though, I need to listen to you when it comes to tomatoes.

Simone (junglefrog) May 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Great tips! Thanks for sharing all that.

Stephanie May 9, 2010 at 7:59 am

thanks!…very helpful!…and beautiful pictures. :)

Carolyn May 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Made your eggplant dish having no parmesan in the house and no wish to go to the shop. Smothered ricotta over the top (it was all I had) and it was delish! Like so many tomato based dishes, was even tastier on the second day.

jules May 14, 2010 at 6:41 pm

carolyn – ricotta would be lovely with this – thanks for sharing
pleasure simone & stephanie

conor – I haven’t come across the tupperware containers – will keep an eye out

sure chacotaco – happy to weigh in on kitchen arguments – any time

yard edge – warm climates are a tricky situation – I guess it’s up to you to guage which is the lesser of the two evils – hot & humid or cold and dry – sorry I can’t be more helpful

erin
that’s so sad about the leeks and their roots – poor darlings

M. May 29, 2010 at 3:16 am

I love these tips, very useful info.
thank you for sharing :)

Majeeda September 15, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Great tips! thank you, I learned so much from this. I am having a lot of trouble lately storing my veges in the fridge anyway because I haven’t been using plastic bags in there and some don’t seem to like that. ): I think that as you’ve pointed out, some of them would do better ‘outside’ the fridge anyway. I’ll experiment a bit I think.

The recipe I must try. I’ve never really known much to do with eggplant and it’s funny. I was stopped by a lady in the street recently who asked me if I could pls tell her how to cook it. Granted I guess I look as though I should know all about it – the poor thing – I think we were both disappointed by the encounter, lol. So if I learn your delish looking recipe then next time I will be ok!

Mircea September 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Just did this and I have to say its going on my top 5 favorite foods! Thankies !

Stephanie November 11, 2011 at 4:47 am

Thanks so much for the advice! You are spot-on about tomatoes – I live in the southeastern US where the summers are very hot and humid, and we plant tomatoes every year. Keep them on the vines until they are ripe (unless you want fried green tomatoes, another delicacy!) If the bugs/birds start to get to them, bring them inside and put them in a sunny windowsill to ripen. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER put them in the refrigerator!! There is nothing like homegrown tomatoes! This recipe sounds wonderful and I can’t wait to try it! I thoroughly enjoy your blog, Jules! Keep up the great work!

Steve K September 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Great website, super tips on vegetable storage, nice recipe–Thanks!

Phil Cook November 22, 2012 at 3:43 am

So I’ve seen countless kitchen islands that use wicker baskets in drawers to store veggies. Is this just fashion, or does it help with the storage? What things do I need to keep in mind when looking for one? I’ve heard you shouldn’t store onions and potatoes together. Is this true, and if so how far apart is far enough?

jules November 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Phil
Great question!
Baskets are good for things that need to breathe like onions and potatoes. BUT if they’re out in the open and exposing the veg to light it’s going to decrease the keeping time.
I haven’t heard that about potatoes and onions. Mine live next to each other without any dramas.

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