that is deep green with tightly packed leaves that are closed at the top. Blackening on the stem is a sign an artichoke is old. Keep artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. To prep one for steaming, trim the tips and stem. Steam until tender and the leaves pull away without too much resistance. Serve with a vinaigrette or melted butter for dipping.
Whether thin or thick, asparagus stems should be bright green, firm, and straight. The buds, or tips, should be tightly closed. Wrap the bottoms in a damp paper towel and keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days. Before cooking, rinse to remove sand from the tips and snap off or trim the bottoms (peeling is not necessary). Asparagus is good raw, blanched, broiled, or roasted.
Look for leaves that are whole and unbroken with no signs of wilting or browning. For optimal flavor, select a mix of several varieties. Keep unwashed greens in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to four days. They should be kept separate from apples and pears, which give off ethylene gas and can turn lettuce brown. To show off the delicate flavor of the greens, dress them simply with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The best cherries are plump and firm with unblemished, glossy skin in a uniform color; a deeper red yields a sweeter taste. (The exception is Rainier cherries, which have a creamy yellow and red exterior.) They’re highly perishable and should be eaten within a day or two of purchase; those with stems typically last longer than those without. Don’t wash the fruits until you’re ready to eat them—moisture speeds decay—and store in a bowl or open plastic bag in the refrigerator. Cherries are delicious eaten out of hand or pitted, tossed with mint, and served over ice cream. Cooked cherries make an excellent accompaniment to duck or pork as well as a sweet filling for pies.
Freshly dug young potatoes should have firm, smooth skin (usually red or tan) and be free of sprouts, soft patches, and green spots. Store new potatoes in a paper bag in a cool, dark, dry place, like a pantry shelf or a basement, for up to three days. There’s no need to peel new potatoes; simply scrub them with a brush. Firm and flavorful, they’re ideal in potato salad: Boil new potatoes until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes, then toss warm with vinaigrette and chopped fresh chives.
Ripe snow peas should be light green and almost translucent, with tiny seeds. Look for garden pea pods that are glossy, crunchy, sweet, and full of medium-size peas. Sugar snaps should be bright green with plump pods. Keep unwashed peas loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to four days. Snow and sugar snap peas can be eaten raw after removing the stems and the strings. Garden peas should be shelled and blanched in boiling water just until they turn bright green.
A fresh, tasty radish is firm when squeezed and free of cracks. Remove the leaves and keep radishes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Just before using, trim the stems and the root ends and wash. For a fresh side dish: Braise radishes in butter and balsamic vinegar until barely tender, 6 to 8 minutes, and serve with mild fish, like striped bass.
Rhubarb stalks should be firm, not limp, with a deep red color. Keep unwashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to one week. Remove the leaves before using (they contain oxalic acid, which is toxic if eaten in large quantities). Rhubarb is quite tart and is best when cooked with sugar in compotes or used as a pastry filling. Try it in pies, crisps, or cobblers, or paired with strawberries or raspberries.
Many green onions picked before they are matured are referred to as scallions, but true scallions are a distinct and milder variety. Fresh scallions should have bright green tops and firm, white bases. Keep bunches unwashed and wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Trim the roots just before using. Scallions are ideal grilled, sautéed, and sliced raw in salads, soups, and sandwiches.
Look for deep, darkly colored, and unbroken leaves with no signs of wilting or yellowing. Keep unwashed spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days. Chop off any thick stems, then swish the leaves in a bowl of cold water. (They can be sandy, so change the water several times.) Spinach can be sautéed, steamed, baked, and served raw.
Buy plump, firm, fragrant berries that are shiny and bright red. To store, discard damaged or moldy berries before wrapping the container loosely in a plastic bag or paper towel and stowing in the refrigerator for up to three days. Wash and trim the caps just before using. Strawberries can be cooked in jams and pies. They’re also delicious at room temperature: sprinkle berries with sugar and balsamic vinegar and serve with sliced pound cake.