By night, you may know Cory Vitiello as an expert on Chef in Your Ear, but by day, he’s a popular Toronto chef and restaurateur. He’s also a serious purchaser of fruits and vegetables. Produce is important at his Toronto restaurant, Flock, which is just as famous for its fresh salads as its antibiotic and hormone-free rotisserie chickens. “We probably go through $20,000 worth of produce in a week,” says Cory.
Here, he shares his tips for which fruits and veggies will last the longest, how to store them for optimal longevity, and what to do with them when they’ve started to wilt. These tips are a great starting point for getting the most from your fresh goods, but as always, trust your senses and don’t consume food that looks or smells off.
Last for: up to 3 months in the fridge.
Store apples in the warmest part of the fridge in a sealed bag, says Cory. Apples tend to absorb flavours, so avoid putting them next to fragrant items like cheese. If they’re starting to overstay their welcome, peel them, cut them into slices and toss them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. From there, you can “use them for smoothies just like you would bananas,” says Cory.
Tip: A plastic bag helps keep apples (and bananas) well segregated from other produce; apples release ethylene gas, which can cause premature ripening in nearby produce.
Last for: 2-3 weeks in the fridge.
Although beets last quite a while in the fridge, they tend to lose their sweetness over time. Cory recommends keeping them at room temperature as long as possible to maintain optimal flavour. As long as they’re firm — “I mean very firm, you should not be able to bruise them” — they can be stored in the pantry. “If you’re looking for a nice salad beet, you definitely want to use the firm, fresh ones,” says Cory. When the skins start to get leathery, move them to the refrigerator, or better yet, roast them. “Keep the skins on — you don’t have to peel them. Just give them a good scrub and roast them with your apples that are about to expire.”
Lasts for: up to 2 months in the fridge.
“Cabbage is probably one of the most underrated vegetables,” says Cory. “As long as it’s stored in the fridge, you’re golden.” Peel off wilting outer layers to reveal crisper leaves below, and don’t be afraid to branch beyond coleslaw. Cory likes chopping a cabbage in half, dicing it against the grain, and stir-frying: bonus, cooked cabbage goes nicely with your roasted or sauteed aging beets, apples and carrots.
Last for: 2-3 weeks in the fridge.
Trim the green tops off carrots and store them in water with their skins intact so they stay fresh and juicy. “I like to leave the skins on, scrub them down and roast them whole,” says Cory. “I love that rustic, natural look on a carrot. What I don’t like is a perfect carrot stick on a plate. I think that looks tacky and 1980s.”
Lasts for: up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
When the base of celery goes limp, do like “everybody’s mom” and cut the base off, and revive celery sticks in a cup of water in the fridge. Or simply remove the flimsy outer stalks to reveal the heart, “which is the best part anyway.” And don’t forget to use the inner leaves — Cory likes to toss his in fresh salad as he would with other herbs. “It’s really nice, tender and sweet.”
Lasts for: 3-6 months.
“All garlic will age to a certain point, but you want to keep it in a dark place, in a paper bag,” says Cory. Keep it away from fruit to avoid flavour transfer, but you’ll know it’s nearing the end when it starts to sprout. To use up a bunch of garlic at once, peel and roast in olive oil on low heat until just browned. Store the roasted cloves submerged in olive oil in a jar in the fridge. “Use it for pasta, sauces, anything you’d use garlic for — it’ll last for a month after you roast it,” says Cory.
Onion and Shallots
Last for: 2-3 months.
Like garlic, onions and shallots are best stored in paper bags in a dry, cool place, encourages Cory. Sprouting will indicate that they’ve started to turn; as with beets, if they start to wrinkle or can be easily squeezed like an orange, cook them. Whether you roast them for a dip, caramelize them for burgers or at them to soups, “any kind of cooked preparation is fine,” says Cory.
Last for: 3 -4 weeks in the fridge.
Pomegranates can last quite awhile as long as they’re intact. Once you remove the seeds from the fruit, however, they need to be eaten within a couple of days. “The seeds have an incredibly short shelf life and will lose their juice, go pale and won’t taste as sweet,” warns Cory. He suggests sprinkling them on your morning yogurt, or trying them in salads. If you crack into your pomegranate and find some of the seeds are brown and slimy, don’t eat them, but do go ahead and pick out the good ones.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Last for: 2 – 3 months.
These famously long-lived staples are good to eat until they start sprouting, says Cory. Like beets, the starch and sugar levels will fluctuate according to storage methods. “If you store them in a cool, dark place,” says Cory, “that will prevent the sugar levels from building up. Then you’ll get a nice, dark roasted potato, and not a limp one that tends to burn quickly or is flimsy when you fry it — that’s because of too much sugar. When you store them in the fridge, they build up too much sugar.”
Last for: up to 3 months.
“This is definitely one of the most versatile and longest lasting ingredients,” says Cory. “It takes a long time for winter squash to break down. I like eating winter squash raw — I’ll peel and shave it really thin on a mandolin or vegetable peeler, and it gives a really nice, unique crunch in a salad. But when in doubt, just roast it whole — cut it in half, smear with butter and some spices.”
Lasts for: 2-3 weeks in the fridge
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an expired watermelon,” says Cory. But if you’re looking to use up your watermelon quickly, he suggests scooping out the flesh and tossing it in the blender with your favourite tea. “Watermelon iced tea is the ultimate summer drink,” he says.