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IU chef Chris Gray shares some tips for storing, cooking with local spring produce

JON STANTE, IU COMMUNICATIONS

Apr. 16, 2015

Warmer weather brings the opportunity to cook with fresh produce such as asparagus, cucumbers, and strawberries. 

To help kick off the season, IMU food and beverage director Chris Gray shared some tips for storing and cooking with spring produce found right here in Indiana, as well as recipes for a spring green pesto (below) and seasonal asparagus soup.

Want to protect the quality of your produce? Follow these three tips:

Temperature: For produce such as peas and sweet corn, the conversion of sugar to starch is critical to interrupt at harvest. To minimize this conversion, the produce must be cooled immediately. If possible, harvest these vegetables early in the morning or right before their intended use.

Moisture: The proper humidity level for storage varies by commodity. Leafy vegetables require a high humidity of about 95 percent; in contrast, onions can be stored in drier conditions, such as 65 to 70 percent relative humidity. 

Ventilation: Minimize wilting and tissue breakdown by ensuring that air can circulate properly.

Looking for ideas for how to use or store herbs? Gray suggests several guidelines: 

Herb tips and ideas

  • Dried herbs are more potent than fresh herbs. Don’t be afraid to use large amounts of fresh herbs.
  • Make a barbecue brush with fresh herbs. Bunch rosemary and thyme, dip in oil or sauce and brush meats, fish or vegetables while cooking.
  • Make herbal butters to use on grilled steaks or grilled chicken just before serving.
  • Add basil or mint leaves to plain water for a refreshing twist.
  • Add fresh herbs to salads.
  • Use all parts of the herb. Soft stems can be chopped up and added to a dish. 

Herb storage and handling

  • Herbs from the grocery store (such as those sold in a clamshell case) will keep best wrapped in a lightly dampened paper towel inside a zip-top bag .
  • Wrap basil and oregano in paper and store in the door of the refrigerator where it is warmer.
  • Herbs bought from the farmers market most likely have not been cooled, so putting them directly into the refrigerator will shock them. Instead, it is best to use the herbs quickly and store at room temperature.
  • Freshly picked herbs will survive like cut flowers in a glass of water.
  • Avoid handling herbs as much as possible. Basil, oregano and marjoram are specially touch sensitive and will turn black from exposure from excessive handling.
  • Do not wash herbs until just before consuming. Water and washing can severely affect the ability of the herb to remain in good quality. When washing, use tepid water.
  • Do not store herbs near products with ethylene such as bananas, tomatoes, avocadoes or any other ripening fruits. Ethylene will cause the herbs to turn black.

Recipe

Spring green pesto
(makes about 1½ cups)

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup each, hazelnuts and almonds, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup baby arugula
  • ½ cup baby spinach
  • ½ cup baby kale
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup shredded Everton* (Alpine-style cow’s milk cheese, sharper and grassier than Gruyere)

Preparation:

  1. Add the oil, nuts and garlic to a blender and pulse for 15 seconds until the nuts are chopped.
  2. Add ¼ cup of each of the greens and blend; continue adding greens until all ingredients are roughly pureed. You may have to use a ladle to push the ingredients down a little in the blender.
  3. Add the salt and cheese and pulse for a couple of seconds to combine.
  4. Serve on sliced and toasted baguettes, place a bit of Ameribella cheese (semi-soft, washed rind, salty savory flavor) on each and broil just until melted.

*This recipe features local Everton and Ameribella cheeses from the Jacobs and Brichford Farm in southeast Indiana.

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