|Freezing Fruits and Vegetables|
Recipe Type: Side Dish
The bounty of this time of year is astonishing; each week we are presented with gorgeous mounds of beautiful fruits and vegetables – clearly too much to eat in the seven days before the market occurs again. This bounty is fleeting and thus bittersweet and prompts the desire to preserve it for enjoyment later, when the season is over and the perfect corn and tomatoes and blueberries are only a memory. But how can we do so in a manner that preserves as much flavor as possible? Obviously, we could do what our ancestors did and can it, but what if we don’t know how to can or don’t have the time, or don’t want to? Most vegetables and fruits can be frozen for later use if they are properly prepped before cold storage. Here are a few tips for freezing fresh produce.
- Zucchini: Grated zucchini and squash can be frozen very easily and with excellent results. Simply wash and dry your squash and grate into a colander. Press down to express extra liquid and then freeze in 2-cup portions in a quart freezer bag. When you want to use the zucchini defrost the frozen squash in a colander in the sink; the grated squash will expel a fair bit of water. Press down to squeeze out even more water and the resulting vegetable will be ready to use in breads, frittate, or soups.
- One of my favorite recipes for grated zucchini is a sauté with onions and garlic. Finely chop a small onion and a clove of garlic and sauté in olive oil, on medium heat, in a large frying pan. When the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes) add the zucchini and continue to sauté until the zucchini is heated through and the flavors are blended, which will take about 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
- Sweet Corn: Corn is very easy to freeze, and will keep for several months if properly bagged. Use your largest stock pot to bring a large amount of water to boil. While the water is coming to a boil shuck the ears of corn, leaving them whole. When the water is boiling add a few ears at a time – depending on the amount of water – so that the water comes back to a boil within one minute. Parboil the corn, once the boil has resumed, for about one minute and remove the ears to a plate, and continue adding more ears of corn until you have parboiled your entire stack (I have, in the past, processed as many as three dozen ears in this manner!). After your corn has cooled to a temperature where it can be handled without pain, use a very sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cob into a bowl. With a minute of parboiling they should be able to be cut easily but shouldn’t get mushy. Then you simply place the cut kernels into freezer bags in whatever portion size works best for your family and recipes.
- Corn doesn’t expel as much water as zucchini does while defrosting, so I have found you can leave it in the bag. Then you can use the corn for making corn bread, fritters, succotash, corn soup, etc. You can even substitute corn for the zucchini in the recipe above, and it’s especially nice if you add diced red peppers as well.
- Peppers: Green and red peppers are a little more difficult to freeze, I have found. They can lose their flavor and become mushy if parboiled and frozen so I usually cook them prior to freezing.
- Pepper Sauté: Another recipe where onions and garlic are used to flavor a vegetable. Obviously, if you dislike either of these aromatics you can use one or the other only; you can also add fresh or dried herbs if you want. Chop the onions and garlic and sauté in olive oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Chop the peppers lengthwise into quarters and slice thinly across. When the onions are translucent add the peppers and toss to coat with oil; you may wish to add another tablespoon of olive oil if necessary. Turn the temperature down to low and cover the pan; you want to cook the peppers very slowly so they give up their liquid but do not acquire a ‘fried’ taste or aroma. Cook the peppers in this manner for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour; the lower the temperature the better the end result. Stir occasionally. About half-way through the cooking time add balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar; the amount will depend on how many peppers you are cooking (for instance, last week I cooked a basket of peppers from Fruitwood Farms, which was about 15 long green frying peppers. I used one large onion (from Blueberry Hill Farms) and four cloves of garlic (from Willing Hands), a scant ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon of sugar). Continue to cook on the low temperature; the vinegar and sugar will cause the peppers to caramelize slightly and they will develop a very rich aroma. Add salt and pepper to taste and either serve – or – freeze. I have found that when peppers are prepared in this manner they freeze very well, and are perfect for later use as they are or in scrambled eggs and fritatte, soups, and you can even add them to a sweet corn sauté to add flavor and texture!
- Fruits: Fruit is more delicate to preserve by freezing, but equally easy. Most fruits can be frozen on a cookie sheet and then bagged for later use. For instance, you can freeze blueberries with excellent results; wash the berries and allow them to dry (you don’t want water clinging to the berries because too many ice crystals will form). Spread the berries on a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer, and place the sheet in the freezer. You want to keep the berries from touching if possible. After they are solidly frozen, bag them for easier storage. This method works well with most fruits, although for pit fruits such as peaches and nectarines you should slice and peel them and then lay out on the cookie sheet.
- Easy Fruit Sorbet: This can be done with almost any frozen fruit. Just take the fruit out of the freezer and allow the slices or berries to soften up just a little; you want them to stay very cold. Then use a strong blender to whip them into a hard slush; add some sugar and lemon juice and you have a VERY healthy sorbet.