Hold on to Summer: Freezing Seasonal Foods
I never want the spring and summer months to end. The warm weather is fabulous, but I get especially attached to the fresh foods coming from my garden, farmers’ markets and CSA. Luckily, thanks to freezing, I can keep some of those summer-fresh flavors year round.
Blanching is a fairly simple process. Boil a large pot of water and give food a brief plunge (usually about 1 to 2 minutes). Then transfer it to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, drain and your done. Blanching before you freeze a food stops enzymes from breaking down the food's nutrients and brightens its color. This process also comes in handy for peeling things like tomatoes and peaches. You can use a paring knife to make a small “X” in the bottom of the fruit before you drop it in the boiling water. Leave in the water for only a few seconds and then move into the ice water bath. This will loosen the skin.
When prepping foods for freezing, vegetables benefit most from blanching; fruits are more delicate and usually don’t need it. The exception for fruits would be things that you need to peel -- peaches and nectarines, for example -- before popping them in the freezer.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and whatever other berry you can think of should be washed, dried and placed in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the berries are hard and then transfer them to a bag -- initially freezing in a single layer keeps them from sticking together. You can freeze cherries in a similar fashion but may want to remove the pit first.
Like I said, you need to blanch, peel and slice peaches and nectarines first because their skins get tough when frozen. For fruits with thicker peels and skins (bananas and pineapple), peel or cut away the skin, chop them up and they’re ready to freeze -- no blanching required.
What about apples? Sure, you can freeze those too. Just make sure you slice them up and dip them an ascorbic acid solution first. Ascorbic acid (a.k.a. vitamin C) keeps the apples from browning. You can find the solution at garden stores, online or along with canning and jam-making goods at your grocery store.
Blanch veggies like summer squash, peas, green beans, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. For even blanching and cooking, cut everything into equal-sized pieces. You can leave corn on the cob or cut the kernels off after you blanch. And don't forget about potatoes. I cut my potatoes and sweet potatoes into strips before blanching. After they're frozen, they can go straight to the oven with canola oil, salt and pepper for easy oven fries. As for onions and peppers, you can skip blanching them -- just chop them up (remove stem and seeds for peppers) and they’re good to go.
Your freezing options don’t end at produce. Freeze breads, muffins, pancakes and cupcakes -- just wrap them tightly and store. When you're ready to eat them again, toast or place them in the fridge to defrost. Soups, tomato sauce, pesto, applesauce and chicken or vegetable stock are also great to keep in the freezer; store them for up to 6 months. I like stocks and pesto in ice cube trays -- once they harden, I pop them out and store the cubes in freezer bags for single serving portions or whenever I need to add a hint of flavor to a dish like rice.
Always use freezer-safe containers and bags; they are properly insulated to protect your food. Label and date your foods so you know what you’ve got and how long you've had them. Whether you blanch or just wash foods before freezing, make sure they are completely dry before packing them up -- otherwise, they’ll get frosty and taste lousy. Store your frozen goodies in the back of your freezer; this is the coldest part. Bags of fruits and veggies that you keep in the freezer door are more susceptible to freezer burn, especially if you open and close your freezer often. When you place foods in freezer bags, seal and lay them flat in your freezer until the contents harden completely. This makes for easy stacking -- it even works for soups and sauces.
No, not always, but the nutrients remain. Frozen produce won’t have the same texture as fresh, so frozen stuff is best used in particular recipes. Once frozen, fruits can be used for smoothies, baked goods, pancakes, jams and sauces. Frozen vegetables can go straight to the steamer, microwave, oven or just toss them into simmering soups, sauces and stews. Frozen herbs work best when you add them directly to a simmering pot. Try crushing and adding frozen basil and parsley leaves to tomato sauce or sage into a hearty stew.