But what of the reality when a super-sized mystery box arrives at your door, overflowing with a huge pile of brassicas and a glossy bunch of silverbeet that’s bigger than your fridge.
“The secret here is to not panic,” says celebrated chef and cookbook author Matt Wilkinson, owner of East Brunswick’s Pie Shop and creative director at Four Pillars Gin.
“Take everything out of the box and have a think about what you can do with them. If you’re not sure, pull out some cookbooks for inspiration or just Google the ingredients. It’s important to plan out your menu for the week so you don’t waste any food.
“It might be as simple as having an amazing Sunday roast and doing leftovers for a few days. Cold roasted vegetables with some cold meat is the perfect salad for me. Keep it simple. That’s always the best way.”
Sharon Flynn agrees. As Australia’s leading expert on fermenting, she’s on a mission to teach home cooks the ancient, gut-friendly preserving techniques pushed aside by modern food processing.
She says most students in her classes are initially skittish about natural fermentation, believing pasteurisation is safer. “Pasteurisation was a fabulous invention, but it created unnecessary fear in the home kitchen,” she says. “Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years… we’ve just forgotten how to do it.
“Most people don’t realise that the pickles you buy from the shop are preserved in vinegar and pasteurised with heat to kill all bacteria. This means food can be stored for years, but the vegetables are devoid of life.
“When you have a big box of super-fresh vegetables, it’s the perfect time to ferment, as it captures the vegies at their peak. I’d start with a simple brine pickle, using familiar vegetables like carrots, green beans or cauliflower florets, which are all in season right now and ferment in a few days. Then you can pop them into the fridge for eating at any time.”
She says fermenting excess produce to preserve it for later use is as simple as popping the vegies into a jar and covering them with brine, occasionally releasing the lid to let the gases out during the fermentation process (see recipe below).
“Trust your senses and have fun. The vegetables should taste fresh and pleasantly sour.”
Sharon has literally written the book on fermenting (Ferment For Good, Hardie Grant). At her business, the Fermentary in Daylesford, she ferments live kraut, kimchi, kefir and pickles for customers across Australia. She also sells kits for home fermenters, with tips and recipes available online.
For veteran chef Ian Curley (French Saloon, Kirk’s Wine Bar), fresh herbs are his favourite ingredient to preserve.
It’s important to plan out your menu for the week so you don’t waste any food.
“I blend them up to make a salsa verde,” he says. “I love fresh herbs. Throw them in the blender and add some almonds or any of the nuts that have been sitting in the cupboard forever. Then add some olive oil, a bit of salt and lemon juice and put it in a jar, making sure it’s covered in olive oil. So long as you don’t put your finger in it – use a stainless-steel spoon – it’ll last for three weeks. No worries.”
Miranda Sharp, founder and director of Melbourne Farmers’ Markets, says she often ferments vegetables when she has a big stash, but her secret to success is a big freezer in her garage.
She urges people to support local farmers and buy the produce as direct as possible. Then cook up a storm and store it for the long winter ahead. Victoria’s farmers’ markets are still running every weekend, but now the market community has a base at Alphington’s Melbourne Innovation Centre, where people can order ahead online and pick up a haul from producers every Wednesday and Friday.
“You can do so much with a freezer,” Miranda says. “You can cook up a bucketload of silverbeet and freeze it in containers… chopped and sauteed with onion and garlic, ready to go when you need some greens.”
For Matt Wilkinson, leafy vegetables like silverbeet and kale are best chopped up and fried with onion and nutmeg. He then folds a beaten egg and crumbled fetta into the mix, and wraps it all in filo pastry.
He says the key to making the most of a big box of seasonal produce is savvy storage.
“Never pre-wash or cut your fruit and veg before you put it away,” he warns. “It’ll stay fresher for longer if you wash it just before cooking.
“It’s important that you think about storage space. Figure out what can sit out in the pantry, like potatoes and onions and beetroot, and what needs to go in the fridge. But don’t just shove everything in the crisper, with the celery squashing the salad leaves. Layer it in gently… maybe take a few bottles of wine out of the fridge to make room.”