In the best of times, it can be challenging to use up fresh produce before it crosses the line to something less than fresh. But we’re not in the best of times. You might be stocking up on more fresh produce when you shop because you are making fewer trips to the grocery store, or have long lag times between grocery deliveries. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a Community Supported Agriculture subscription, but struggle to use your bounty in a timely fashion. With fears of food scarcity in our collective consciousness, it’s easy to feel extra food-waste guilt when your broccoli is turning yellow and your carrots are looking limp. Fresh produce doesn’t come with an expiration date, so how do you know what’s still OK to eat?
Let’s cut to the chase: If produce is squishy, wet, slimy, discolored, or has an unpleasant odor, it’s already started to compost, so help it finish the journey. If it’s limp, wilted or a little softer than usual — in other words, kind of sad — then while it may be past its prime, is isn’t out of the game altogether. Your options are to revive your sad produce, freeze it, or use it immediately.
Saute. Saute limp spinach or braising greens with garlic as a side dish, or add them to scrambled eggs. Ditto for bell peppers or zucchini that are a tad wrinkly.
Roast. Broccoli or kale that’s losing its vivid color in spots, even going a bit yellow, is safe to eat. Tear that kale into pieces, toss with olive oil and sea salt, and make kale chips by baking them at 300 degrees F until done to your liking, usually 15 to 20 minutes. Cut virtually any sturdy vegetable — broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, extra onions — into chunks, give them the olive oil and salt treatment, and roast at 400 to 450 degrees until you judge them done. Small carrots, green beans and asparagus can be roasted whole. Most Brussels sprouts do best cut into halves or quarters.
Incorporate. We’re transitioning out of soup weather, but we haven’t hit the summer heat quite yet, which is good news, because a big pot of soup — or stew — is a fabulous way to use up any number of vegetables, from carrots, celery, zucchini and cauliflower to chard, spinach and kale. You can also incorporate sad-but-still-good vegetables into casseroles and gratins or omelets and frittatas. On a homemade-pizza kick? Top it with some of those not-so-crisp veggies. No one will know the difference once it emerges from your oven.
Soak. Salad greens just a little limp? They’re probably just dehydrated — the refrigerator environment is quite dry, although the crisper is more humid. Give them a five-minute soak in fresh, cool water, then a whirl in a salad spinner. For fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, or asparagus, do like you would do with cut flowers: Trim a bit off the bottom of the stems and stand upright in a glass of water until they revive. For sturdier vegetables like carrots, celery and broccoli, you can do the flower method, too, or cut them into pieces and place them in a bowl of water until crisp.
Freeze. You can freeze almost any vegetable, although best practices vary. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has details at nchfp.uga.edu. That’s also a good resource if your summer plans call for canning.