What to Do with All That Produce

Sometimes I get a little carried away at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and I end up with way more produce than I'm prepared to handle. So here's my game plan for such occasions: I pull out my big pasta pot, fill it with water, salt it, and start blanching—boiling vegetables for a minute or so until they are just tender and then dunking them directly into ice-cold water to stop the cooking. You don't have to drain the pot of water each time you add a new vegetable to it.

Use a big slotted spoon or one of my favorite kitchen tools: a spider. A spider is a wire net attached to a wide wooden handle that costs about $5 at Asian markets. In one sitting recently, I blanched Swiss chard, asparagus, trimmed artichoke quarters, beet greens, and shucked fava beans and English peas—pretty much everything I had bought save for the strawberries. Everything cooks in about 1 to 3 minutes; just taste whatever you're blanching as you go to know when it’s done—it should be tender when you bite into it, not hard or mushy.

Once all my impulse buys are par-cooked (or fully cooked in the case of the peas and asparagus), I can refrigerate them until later in the week, when I need a quick weeknight meal. The other night my blanched beet greens turned into a pesto-like pasta sauce with walnuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil, all quickly buzzed in a food processor (see the steps below). Extra freezes perfectly (in ice-cube trays if you want convenient individual servings). Don’t let excess overwhelm you—deal with it all at once and within minutes you’ll have a week's worth of meals.

1. Take 2 to 3 bunches of beet tops. Rinse them of dirt, drop them in a large pot of boiling salted water, and cook until wilted and tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to an ice water bath using a slotted spoon or spider. When cool, squeeze out excess water.

2. Blend 2 to 3 medium garlic cloves in a food processor, add a handful of toasted walnuts, and blend until finely chopped. Add the cooked beet tops and blend to a fine purée.

3. Drizzle in 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil—basically enough oil so that it turns from a purée into a sauce. Add Parmesan to taste. I usually start with a small handful. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

4. Place in a saucepan and toss with cooked pasta, adding a little reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce. (Sometimes I even save the blanching water for boiling pasta. It might look green or red but it still tastes good.) Season again with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and serve.

Image source: Flickr member cdessums under Creative Commons