Keeping foods from spoiling – The Denver Post

Bill St. John, Special to The Denver Post

“Herb bombs” frozen in cubes or sheets will add exclamations of flavor.

“Stay at home” can feel like “rot at home” when your fruits and vegetables totally show you how.

A couple of weeks ago, yet again, another bunch of cilantro morphed into black slime despite my customarily diligent efforts to prevent it. Immediately on returning with it from the store, I wash cilantro, spin it (almost) dry, then layer it carefully in paper towels, and place it in a plastic bag. But it lasts only four or five days before the rot sets in. (I love cilantro. I live alone. I dislike waste. I am annoyed.)

I suppose this sort of frustration is common these days. On the one hand, even moreso than in normal times, we want to keep our fresh ingredients as fresh as possible for as long as possible. On the other hand (and especially for some of us, like seniors, or immunocompromised, those ill, safers-at-home), going out to refresh the fresh isn’t wise, or secure, or even possible.

I wanted to see if I could allay this case of the disappointing cilantro. I discovered much about cilantro (and other tender greens, such as flat-leaf parsley and basil) — and about much else. I now do these things kitchen-side and will do so when these present difficult days finally have passed.

Most of all, I learned that I have gas. Ethylene gas, to name it, a gas given off by some fruits and vegetables that speeds up ripening in either the gas-giver or its neighbors. It’s obviously safe; we’ve been living with and eating it for millennia. But it helps to know more about it.

Some fruits and vegetables such as apples, peaches, tomatoes and bananas (hizzoner) produce healthy amounts of ethylene. Others, such as limes, lemons and avocados, are sensitive to ethylene, so much so that in the presence of a gas-giver they ripen (read: spoil) overly quickly or unmanageably.

It’s apples and oranges but not some other citrus: That’s why lemons and limes shrivel up more quickly if stored in the fruit bin with the apples. Oranges and grapefruit are relatively insensitive to ethylene, so in with the apples they may go. But the 7Up citrus should have their own special place.

Bananas are buds: By far, bananas are America’s most-loved imported fruit. They also are No. 1 in ethylene production, mostly (interestingly) as a way to ripen their fellows in the same bunch.

As you know, the second that you detach that plastic wrapping at the stem end to get at one banana, it’s a race against time to keep the remainder of the bunch from browning by the end of the week. The ethylene emits from the stem end, so rewrap the cluster of stems with a bit of plastic wrap and you’ll very much slow down the overall ripening of the rest of the bananas in the same bunch.

About dem apples and other firm, ethylene-producing fruits such as pears, peaches, peppers and tomatoes of which I plan to eat the skins: We’re cautioned to avoid washing fruits, then storing them, because residual moisture can lead to bacterial growth and spoilage. Understood.

But these are different days and I do not know who touched or coughed or sneezed over these tasties before I bought them, or how long ago any of that may have happened. I very much want to scrub them well when I get them home. So before I store them, I dry them off as well as possible. If I strip off a protective layer of vegetable wax or rinse away some nutrients, these days I do not care.

Parsley and cilantro are like flowers: I cannot believe how well it works to treat long-stemmed herbs like, well, long-stemmed flowers. Wash, shake or spin off excess water, slice away one inch from the bottoms of all stems, and place in a container (plastic tub or wide jar works well) with an inch or so of cold water, then cover with a light plastic bag (such as a grocer’s vegetable bag).

Place in the refrigerator, tucking as much of the plastic bag under the tub or jar. Use the herbs as you need, refreshing the water every fourth day. I kept a bunch of cilantro in great condition this way for — get ready for it — 12 days! Flat-leaf parsley stays even longer.

Today’s recipe is for what I call “herb bombs,” frozen cubes or sheets of puréed green herbs, garlic, ginger and olive oil. These you can use to finish a pan sauce for a steak; enrich a stir-fry toward the end; lay down an exclamation point in a bowl of soup; up the ante on fried rice; or coat pasta noodles with something extra. You get the idea.

Make these when the parsley really is ready to give up the ghost, or when the ginger knob has more wrinkles than the Dos Equis guy, or the garlic has been in the garlic keeper since the potter made it. This is true sequestration cuisine.

A couple of notes: Use what green you got; flat-leaf parsley is a gimme, but basil, curly parsley, even cilantro also work. If you have some baby spinach about to go bad, use it; otherwise, it is optional. Ginger is optional. Don’t use water to blend the ingredients. Extra virgin oil holds the flavors together better and is its own flavor. Don’t use an aggressively fruity (such as Tuscan) oil; you want “undernotes,” not blares. And for the greens, blanching is key; it sets the color.

BSJ’s Herb Bombs

Ingredients

  • 1 cup, give or take, flat-leaf parsley leaves, loose, blanched
  • 1 cup, give or take, baby spinach leaves, loose, blanched
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-inch square ginger, peeled, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup, give or take, extra virgin olive oil

Directions

In the bowl of the food processor, pulse and blend the ingredients, binding them with enough of the oil, scraping down if necessary, until you obtain a thick, uniform paste.

Freeze in cubes (which, after freezing may be placed in their own container or bag in the freezer) or splay flat and freeze in a sturdy plastic zipper bag. When needed, take out a cube or break off part of the flat.