It’s Leftovers Week — and not just Chat Leftovers. It’s about that food you stashed in the refrigerator with the honorable intention of not letting it go to waste. That doesn’t always work out, does it? So here’s help:
Bonnie S. Benwick talks to local caterer Anna Saint John about how she turns leftover ingredients into great meals. Tim Carman reveals why restaurant leftovers fill food critics with dread. Kara Elder shows how you can repurpose those odds and ends in your refrigerator in all sorts of ways; french fry soup, anyone? Joe Yonan finds the beauty in deliberately creating leftovers to help build meals all week long. Becky Krystal answers the classic leftovers storage question: glass or plastic? Dave McIntyre reviews six popular items that help preserve wine in the bottle. And Fritz Hahn finds that few restaurant patrons in the District are taking advantage of a “doggie bag” law that lets them take home their unfinished bottles of wine.
Anna Saint John joins us for today’s Free Range chat, which starts at noon and, I suspect, will be heavily focused on leftovers. I’ll kick things off with this question — triple-wrapped in plastic, bagged, refrigerated and still fresh — from last week’s chat:
I heard a story on NPR that inspired me to switch to organic bananas, mostly for the health of those who grow and harvest them. But I’ve noticed that when they ripen, they usually don’t turn a lustrous yellow but rather a sort of dingy green-yellow-brown. Sometimes they don’t seem to ripen at all, even when I put them in a bag. What’s up?
There is no query about produce that Robert Schueller, public relations director for Melissa’s World Variety Produce, has not answered — including that one. In addition to fielding it yet again, he passed along a fun banana peeling tip; read on to find it.
“Most Americans want a bright yellow color for their bananas,” Schueller said. “I’ve never seen a bright yellow organic banana.”
From planting through harvest through shipping through sale, he said, organic bananas are treated differently from conventional bananas and won’t end up with the same picture-perfect hue. But that doesn’t mean they can’t ripen; they just won’t be the color we’re used to. So buy them, put them on the counter, give them a gentle squeeze now and then to check their progress and don’t wait for the sunny yellow color that will never come.
Bananas, like other fruits, produce ethylene gas, which is needed to ripen them. Turn to Google, and you’ll find countless claims that all you need to do is put your organic bananas in a bag with some other ethylene-producing fruit, usually an apple, and they will turn bright yellow. Not true, Schuller said.
“Putting more ethylene [with the banana] isn’t going to make it turn yellow, but it will speed up the ripening process,” he said.
Whether you adopt a laissez-faire approach or go with the bag, once the banana reaches a good level of ripeness, store it in the refrigerator. The peel will blacken, but the fruit will be fine.
Now, what about the idea that some organic bananas never seem to ripen at all? That’s possible, Schueller said. “They can be picked a little too early, in a state that does not allow them to ripen up.” In the store, a very green color could signify that, he said, so “look for organic bananas that are yellowing, meaning they were at the right stage when they were picked.”
By the way, the three big banana suppliers you’re familiar with — Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole — all have organic banana lines now. But Schueller says that organics remain just a small fraction of the U.S. banana market — possibly in part because consumers are put off by the color.
And now for his tip. Do you peel your bananas starting at the “handle” end, the one that was attached to the bunch? Instead, start at the blossom end. Pinch it to make it pop open, and when you peel, you won’t get any of those annoying little strings that have to be painstakingly picked off the fruit. I googled, and whaddaya know? It turns out that monkeys have always known to do it that way. Suddenly, I don’t feel so smart.