Let me state from the outset that I am a foodie, which Wiki defines as a person who "loves food for study, consumption, preparation, and news." I would further confess to being a garden foodie, which moves things to a whole new level. Unlike regular foodies, who are a distinct "hobbyist group," we garden foodies are truly obsessed with what we do. In summer, we have trouble not thinking about managing the miraculous flow of food from the garden to the kitchen, and beyond.
The purpose of this confession is to qualify me to render three useful freezing tips for vegetables and herbs from your garden. My guidelines are no substitute for learning the basics of freezing, for which you will need a good reference book such as Putting Food By. But for fellow garden foodies, these little refinements can help make your garden food as good as it can be, even if it comes from the freezer.
1. Steam blanch to preserve flavor and quality
Blanching vegetables is preliminary to freezing them, and most reference books will give you the option of blanching peas, snap beans, squash, and many other veggies in boiling water or steam. Steam is the best way to go. Steaming uses less energy than boiling because you heat much less water. The produce also keeps its shape and color better because it does not swim in boiling water. I use a medium-size pot with an accompanying steaming basket and lid for blanching vegetables. Steaming times for vegetables vary from 3 minutes for delicate mangetout to 15 minutes for ears of corn, but the goal is always to barely cook them through. Once the steaming time is up, I dump the hot veggies onto a pan of ice to preserve their color. Then they go straight into freezer bags, laid flat on cookie sheets in the freezer until frozen hard. Freezing tip 1.1: Burgundy snap beans turn from purple to green when the perfect blanching time has elapsed, so I always grow a few to mix with other snap beans in the steamer basket.
2. Freeze vegetables and herbs in mixed batches
On many days, your excess produce will consist of a little of this and a little of that, which is great! Except as discussed below under stuffed vegetables, I rarely freeze a veggie all by itself. Instead, I might bag up blanched mélanges of whatever I have, including fresh herbs. Paying attention to flavor, texture and color, I easily create beautiful frozen mixtures that need only a sauce and a topping to become dinner. Some examples:
- Snap peas with scallions and kale
- Snow peas with kohlrabi sticks, radishes and garlic chives
- Golden beets with onions, celery and dill
- Summer squash with chard and oregano
- Snap beans with carrots and basil
- Sweet corn with peppers and cilantro
When blanching vegetables together, the only trick here is to add the herbs during the last minute of steaming, so that they barely wilt. For color accents, you can grate in a carrot, dice a golden beets, snip in a few nasturtium or calendula petals, or sprinkle in shreds of red lettuce or radicchio. When freezing vegetables this way, the only rule is to create mixtures that look and taste great.
3. Plan ahead for stuffed vegetables
You know those large outer leaves on a head of cabbage? You can take the most perfect ones, split the stems to get them to lie flat, and then steam blanch them for about 4 minutes (working with 2 leaves at a time). Freeze them flat, and use them to make stuffed cabbage rolls in winter. Look, and you may find stuffed vegetables you didn’t know you had. I hollow out patty pan (scallop) squash, blanch and freeze them, and use them to make stuffed squash. You can slit pablano peppers down the side to remove the seeds, then steam them whole for future use as chiles rellenos. Get the picture? From baby eggplant to zucchini, you will have great garden foodie fun when you thaw the little frozen boats, wrapper leaves or pockets and fill them with grain, cheese or meat-based stuffings. If you’re a true garden foodie, eating stuffed vegetables you froze yourself will take you close to a peak experience.
By Barbara Pleasant