What to Do with Produce That's About to Go Bad

You may have had grand plans when you carried these fruits and veggies home, but now they've gone past their prime. Here's how to put them to use — before it's too late.

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Use It — or Lose It

Produce bin looking tired and sad? Don't toss those goods; take advantage of these no-brainer ways to revive their flavors.

Rescue Tomatoes in the Oven

When tomatoes start to get wrinkly, halve them and arrange cut-side up on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and bake in a low oven for several hours. Remove them when they still have some moisture and flexibility, and use them like classic sun-dried tomatoes. Or keep going for several hours more, until they are bone-dry; if you can resist just popping them like chips, pulverize them into a savory powder that can be scattered over salads, eggs, seafood and more. The sky's the limit.

Ward Off Wilting Greens

If that arugula, spinach or kale needs to be used up quickly, toss it into the food processor with some good olive oil, oily nuts (like pine nuts or walnuts) and some grated hard cheese. Blend Parmesan, pecorino or even aged Gouda for a pesto that will taste lively over pasta or slicked onto bread as a sandwich spread.

Rally Your Root Veggies

Are your carrots as bendy as a gymnast and no longer pleasant to nibble raw? Cut them into bite-sized pieces and toss them — along with sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips or radishes — in olive oil, salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices you like. Roast in a medium-high oven until they get browned, crispy edges. One warning: Keep your beet chunks separate during roasting, unless you want everything to go pink.

Edge Out Sad Eggplant

Have you heard of "melted eggplant"? When this purple fruit is gaining soft spots, it's time to take advantage of a dish in which eggplant is cooked until it's complete mush — think a long, slow saute with plenty of garlic — then mashed with a potato masher and brightened up with a handful of fresh herbs. Pour it over pasta or blitz it with some feta for a delightful dip.

Cook Down Your Berries

OK, once berries start wearing little furry coats, you have to toss them, but if they're just going soft in spots, it's time to concentrate their jammy flavors. Cook them with sugar until they're falling apart, then cool and refrigerate them to use as a toast spread, ice-cream drizzle or pancake topper.

Stall Citrus in the Freezer

If their pocked skins indicate they're past their prime, citrus can still be juiced. Pour the juice into ice cube trays for future uses. When the time comes, toss a few lime cubes into a Mexican stew or chili for tart zip, stir orange cubes into mixed drinks, or drop some lemon cubes down the garbage disposal to freshen the drain and clean the blades.

Don't Bake Another Banana Bread

No one will complain if you dust off Grandma's recipe card and make a loaf of banana bread. But beyond that, bananas, especially super-ripe ones, lend a creamy sweetness to smoothies without needing added sugar — so those dark brown ones should never go to waste. If you're not ready to smoothie-fy right now, peel the bananas, place in a resealable plastic bag and toss in the freezer. When you're ready, just put a whole frozen banana right in a food processor with the other ingredients — you won't even need to add ice. Try one with cocoa powder and milk for a decadent slurp; blend with fresh ginger and vanilla yogurt; or do a combo with milk and berries for a sippable and wholesome dessert.

Save Ailing Alliums

When your garlic is shooting up green stalks or your onions are getting a little soft beneath their skins, it's time to capitalize on the sweetness you'll get by cooking them to a jam-like consistency. Trim off the tops of a whole garlic bulb with kitchen scissors (so that the cloves are slightly exposed), drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap in foil, then toss in the oven at 350 degrees F while you roast your dinner. About 45 minutes later, you can squeeze the sweet, soft flesh right out of the skins to enhance mashed potatoes or even spread on bread. For onions and shallots, slice thinly, then cook in butter or olive oil over super-low heat, stirring occasionally until caramelized to complete mush, about 1 hour. Use as the base for that famous onion soup (use up day-old crusty bread for the croutons) or for an irresistible (if aromatic) pasta sauce, crostini spread or tart filling.

Cook the Cores

Though the outsides of many vegetables may be looking tired or soft, they usually retain hearts that are full of flavor — perfect for a soup with lots of depth. Trim away any less-than-fresh bits from broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, zucchini, root vegetables and more — together or separately. Cut them into small chunks and sweat them — in other words, cook them over super-low heat in a small amount of oil or butter, covered — along with a nice amount of chopped onion or garlic until everything is soft. Add broth to cover and simmer, then puree with a stick blender for a silky, veggie-rich soup that you can eat as a first course. Or add rice or pastina for a more hearty meal.