Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your Produce

Ever wonder why some restaurants have menus that change with the season? Even though customers might want to come back all year long for their favorite strawberry dessert, their go-to restaurant may not offer it in the winter. The reason is that food grown in season is picked at the perfect time after ripening on a vine or in the field, resulting in a fresher, sweeter, more optimal taste.  

June is National Fruit and Vegetable Month, dedicated to the benefits of consuming in-season produce — which stretch beyond your tastebuds. Opting to shop from area farmers helps stimulate the local economy and limits the transportation of the produce. Fruits and vegetables on grocery store shelves travel on average 1,500 miles, resulting in a product that is picked too early or receives additional processing to maintain its quality. Furthermore, transporting food contributes to excess fossil fuel emissions.   

The great news is that Michigan has more than 300 farmers markets that offer produce that’s affordable to everyone. Many markets accept programs and vouchers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) recipients and seniors. For example, Double Up Food Bucks allows Bridge Card users to get twice the fresh fruits and vegetables at the same cost.  

Fresh produce is just that — fresh. Keep these tips in mind to make the most of herbs, fruit and more.  

  • Store asparagus like a bouquet of flowers. 
  • Wrap herbs in a paper towel in a bag to keep them dry. 
  • Be wary of cold spots in your fridge and don’t store vegetables with a high water content in those areas — thawed lettuce and cucumbers aren’t delicacies. 
  • Store produce that expels excess ethylene gas away from others. Apples, potatoes and ripe bananas accelerate the ripening of other produce. 
  • Notice your lettuce is looking sad? Perk it up by giving it a cold-water bath, then taking it for a ride in a salad spinner. 
  • Avocados and mangoes ripen great in a sunny window. If it’s perfectly ripe on Friday but needed for a Sunday brunch, pop it in the fridge to halt the ripening process. 

The summer offers a wide variety of fresh produce. Take advantage of three with this one-pan roasted pasta sauce the whole family will enjoy: 

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Ingredients

  • 5 bell peppers, red, yellow or orange 
  • 10- or 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes 
  • 2 garlic heads 
  • 3 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup olive oil, divided 
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves 
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste 
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Garnish, basil leaves 

Pasta

Roasted Summer Vegetables Pasta Sauce — Serves 4 

Instructions
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare a large lined baking sheet. 
2. Cut bell peppers in half, removing seeds, core and membrane. Add to the baking sheet, face down. 
3. Cut the top of the garlic head off to expose a small part of the garlic cloves. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap garlic heads in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet. 
4. Add tomatoes to the baking sheet. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil, and season all vegetables with salt and pepper. 
5. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until bell peppers sink in and are showing char marks. 
6. Let vegetables cool. Remove garlic from aluminum and peel. Add all contents to a blender. Combine with basil, 1/2 cup olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.  
7. Toss or swirl with your favorite pasta. Top with shredded parmesan and basil.   

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