Too much of a good thing can sometimes be…well, just a little bit too much. Anyone who’s been tempted to leave baskets of zucchini and tomatoes on a neighbor’s porch under the cover of night knows how much fresh food summer can provide. And what irony that everything can come in and be gone before you’re ready to use it. Despite being an avid veggie eater, on several occasions I have found myself overwhelmed with the sheer amount of produce that has come in all at once.
In spite of my best intentions, there has been many a time where I have had plans for those beautiful tomatoes on my counter. At least, before life got in the way and they went bad. Americans on the whole waste 40% of what we produce, and if you’re like me, you’d prefer to be eating your produce rather than tossing it.
For those not quite ready to make the leap to canning or fermenting, freezing your extra food can be a really easy way to extend the harvest long into the cooler months. For those who try to eat seasonally, it can be really nice to get a boost of greens or tomatoes in the middle of winter, and remember the taste of summer. And even better? Preserving fresh food when it’s bountiful can save you money down the road.
One of the oldest food preservation methods, and a tried and true method used by chefs, freezing food at its ripest can preserve the fresh, ethereal quality of a fruit or vegetable at its peak.
What will you need?
Some freezer quality plastic bags (I like any of the freezer ziplocs – in sandwich size, quarts, or gallons, depending on what you’re doing)
And, if you’re blanching:
A large pot
A slotted spoon or tongs
A strainer, clean kitchen towel or paper towels
So what can I freeze?
Pretty much whatever you want to eat later! The only exceptions to this rule are produce with high water content (celery, watermelon), or dairy-based dishes. I tend to make dishes featuring veggies that are at their peak, sauces like tomato sauce and pesto, or if I’m in a crunch for time, I freeze produce in bulk, to be integrated into a recipe at a later time. I suggest blanching greens and other vegetables before freezing. Even after your produce is picked, enzymes continue to break down compounds, affecting taste and texture – blanching stops this process, and in doing so, preserves nutrient content, texture and flavor. Rodale has good information on how to blanch in your kitchen. Be sure to consult a source for cooking times – times vary by vegetable but are all quite quick .
Tomato sauce is an easy and rewarding item to freeze. Included below is Local Pickins’ Annie Hurd’s favorite sauce recipe, from Chef Marcella Hazan. As you look at the ingredient list, you’ll notice that there aren’t any seasonings that you may find in other sauce recipes. The magic here is in the quality of the produce and is why this is a great recipe to showcase the flavor of tomatoes in the height of their season.
For six servings:
2 pounds fresh, ripe plum tomatoes
¼ lb butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste
¼ tsp granulated sugar
- Wash the tomatoes in cold water. Cut them in half, length-wise. Cook in a covered stockpot or saucepan until they have simmered for 10 minutes.
- Puree the tomatoes through a food mill back into the pot. Add the butter, onion, 1 ½ tsp salt, and sugar and cook at a slow but steady simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion.
If using canned tomatoes: Use 2 cups tomatoes and their juice and start the recipe at Step 2.
Helpful Tips and Tricks:
- If you’re blanching, before putting produce in your Ziploc, try to gently remove as much water as you can either by draining – extra moisture can ruin the taste of your veggies
- Try to remove all air from the package, and seal tight – this will help prevent freezer burn.
- Freezing bags on a cookie sheet will help them freeze flat. Once flat, they can then stack more easily (and safely) in your freezer.
- For fresh fruit, freeze fruit pieces spaced out on a cookie sheet before transferring to a freezer bag – this helps prevent veritable icebergs of frozen fruit from forming
- Try to put frozen items in an appropriately sized bag. Sauces that are intended for a group can be put in larger bags (think quart or gallon). If you want single serving options, items like pesto, or blanched kale can be frozen in smaller quantities for efficiency. I like separating single servings of pesto for busy nights, or freezing blanched kale in ice cube trays – when you want a smoothie, they’re easy as anything to pop in your blender, either in addition to or as a substitute for ice
- For quality and safety, and to minimize confusion down the road, label what you’re freezing – with the bag’s contents, and the date you froze it
- For the best quality, consume frozen fruits and veggies within 8-12 months of putting them in your freezer
- Any bits/scraps? Collect all these odds and ends and save them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later use in a stock
When the weather cools and your garden has long faded, pop your sauce bag out of the freezer or your frozen bag of fruit, and with the vibrant taste of summer bounty, travel back to a warmer time and place.