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 (aubergine) parmigiana
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.
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