Pick your own

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by 50connect editorial

Advice on fruit and veg from Craig James, head chef at Quaglino's.

fresh produce

Pick fruit and vegetables as close to the eating occasion as possible, minimising time from soil to plate - they start losing vitamins and nutrients as soon as you pick them.

If you have a glut of fruit and vegetables, preserve them as soon as you can; I would rather eat frozen vegetables from my own garden than fresh from other sources.

Try to buy your produce from farmers' markets or smaller suppliers; always ask about the origin of the produce and buy as locally as you can as this will usually be fresher.

When buying from a supermarket, try to buy food grown locally and always buy seasonal produce as this will have more flavour.

When preparing vegetables, try not peel them unless necessary - most of the nutrients as just under the skin.

When cooking baby vegetables, there is no need to peel before cooking - the skin will easily rub off after cooking.

In the absence of a herb garden, buy herbs in pots rather than bunches; they are not that much more expensive and will generally stay fresher for longer. I find bunched herbs tend to be drier with less flavour.

With fresh herbs, use the stalks as well as the leaves; the former have a lot of flavour and when fresh, will be just as tender.

When cleaning salad leaves, submerge them in lots of cold water - don't hold under a running tap as the water pressure can wilt them.

If you have too many tomatoes, try drying them, simply cut in half, sprinkle with a little sea salt and sugar to draw out the moisture and then leave in sunshine for 2-4 hours. The tomatoes can then be stored in olive oil.

You can make pesto with any of the soft herbs such as basil, coriander, chervil, parsley or tarragon, which is good with fish. Using an electric blender will bruise the leaves and make the pesto grey/brown. Overcooking it will cause the colour to deteriorate. It will keep for a week in the fridge.

It can take as little as two weeks from sowing salad to eating your first crop. Try unusual varieties such as very peppery Greek cress, tangy lemon-flavoured sorrel, yellow-leaved golden mustard or the Asian spinach-like tah tsoi.

Beetroot is available in many colours, including pink & white and bright yellow such as the variety 'Chioggia'. If it's very fresh you can eat the root and leaves raw, and you can cook the stem like Swiss chard.

Fennel can be female, the normal big bulb, or male, which are small plants. It tastes like aniseed and goes well with fish.

Yellow carrots are the sweetest.

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