It’s now-or-never season. That is, it’s now or never (this year) that you can buy an abundance of the freshest, most flavorful summer foods and store them for the long term. Sure, canning and pickling projects are worthwhile endeavors, but here we offer some freezer alternatives. Grab a permanent marker, some thick plastic bags and stackable containers, clear out some freezer space, and enjoy this roundup of freezable sauces and prepped meal components.
Chopped vegetables and fruits: How to Avoid Ice Blocks and Make Cooking from Frozen Easier
Many vegetables and nearly all fruits can be frozen simply, and mimic what we are used to finding in the frozen foods sections of a grocery store. Since most home cooks don’t have access to technology for individual quick freezing (which is what creates the grocery store frozen peas, etc.), you’ll need the following technique to get better quality and to avoid a solid frozen block that would be hard to cook with. It’s recommended that you spread a layer of the cleaned, dried and sliced/chopped/shredded vegetables on baking sheets (hopefully ones with rims). When sufficiently frozen, transfer the vegetables to labeled plastic freezer bags, bang them around a bit to loosen the stuck-together pieces, and squeeze out the air before freezing and sealing. Shredded veggies (like zucchini and carrots) can be pre-measured and packed into muffin tins. Once you have frozen pucks of shredded veggies, you can freeze them in bags. Make your life easier by writing how many cups make up each zucchini puck.
Some vegetables do better in the freezer after being blanched. Blanching is the process of quickly boiling (3 minutes on average) and then chilling vegetables in an ice bath. This will help them keep their color and texture better than if they were just frozen from fresh. This is especially necessary with spinach and other leafy greens. Leafy greens can be frozen in smaller portions by placing “nests” of blanched greens on baking sheets, or in muffin tins, before freezing.
A lengthy guide to freezing and blanching can be found at Mother Earth Living online.
The Next Level: Freeze in Natural Combinations
Prepare in the same individually-frozen technique, but using multiple vegetables that you’d likely use together or in a particular way in recipes.
- Classic mirepoix (because how often can you get local celery, onions and carrots at once?)
- Cajun-creole holy trinity
- Stir-fry or saute mix: just visit the frozen-foods aisle in the grocery store for inspiration!
Condiments are great candidates for freezing, and ice cube trays are a nice size mold for freezing your preparations. Once frozen, release from the ice cube trays and package in labeled freezer bags.
- Basil pesto
- Herbs blended with olive or cooking oil
- Compound butter (with herbs and aromatics)
Tomatoes and tomatillos hold up nicely to the freezer, though they’ll exude some water after defrosting. No reason not to stow away some bruschetta topping, salsa verde, or pico de gallo with hot peppers, herbs, onions, garlic and tomatoes from right now!
Cook-the-Glut Technique: This takes your preparations a step further than blanching, but is not as much a commitment as frozen meals and recipes. Think about how you’re likely to want to incorporate the vegetable in question at a later date. Would you be excited to have pre-grilled slabs of eggplant and zucchini to easily layer into casseroles, or to chop up and reheat as a stew this winter? Prepare your vegetables in bulk in these simple ways, then let them cool, and finally freeze as instructed above (single layers on baking sheets). This works particularly well with large pieces of sweet peppers, whole hot peppers, chunks or slices of onions, garlic (squeeze out of its casing once roasted and store in a small bag or airtight container), slabs or chunks of eggplant, slabs or chunks of zucchini (drain some of the excess water after cooking), whole tomatoes (your choice whether to drain) and tomatillos.
- Oil-salt-and-pepper coated, then roasted or grilled
- Herb-and-garlic marinated, then roasted or grilled
- Soy-sauce-and-garlic marinated, then roasted or grilled
Purees and Liquids: A smart, space-saving way to store liquid items like sauces, soups, fruit purees and more is to pour them into freezer bags and lay the bags flat (use any freezer-safe pan or plate to create a flat surface) until frozen. Then you can stack them vertically or horizontally. Check out this post from The Kitchn for some freezer organization inspiration.
- Fruit purees
- Winter squash and sweet potato (cooked) purees
- Roasted (better yet, fire-roasted and smoky) eggplant, smashed
- Roasted garlic, squeezed out and smashed
- Big batches of summer soup
- Tomato puree (raw)
- Tomato sauces (marinara and its friends)