How a Reformed Tomato Hater Preserves Tomato Bliss

BIG Brandywine!

BIG Brandywine!

When I was young I hated tomatoes.  You know the kind I am talking about.  They were packed three to a plastic tray and wrapped in cellophane.  They were pale red on the outside and almost transparent on the inside, and they were hard.  So hard if you threw one at your brother it wouldn’t break open.  It would hurt.

I remember vividly the first time I tasted a real tomato, picked fresh and sun-warmed directly off the sprawling vine that my neighbor was tending among her flowers.  It was a revelation!  A hefty classic beefsteak that, when sliced, was larger than the bread I used to make my sandwich.  It was bright red throughout, juicy and sweet and slightly acidic.  I was hooked.

From cherries to beefsteaks and from red to yellow, purple, orange, and even black, the tastes and varieties of tomatoes available at our local farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs are astounding and delicious!  As I look at my own garden this year, I am grateful for the farmers and seed savers who have brought back my favorite heirloom varieties that seemed long gone when I was a child.  Who knew tomatoes would become one of my favorite foods?

But here is the problem.  If you are a tomato lover like me, you may have also planted many more tomatoes than you could ever eat.  Even during a harsh growing year like this one and with the late blight finally hitting my plantings, I still have more tomatoes ripening than I can reasonably consume before they go bad.  I can’t stand the thought of wasting a single tomato.  However, the thought of standing over a hot stove, canning or putting up a sauce is well, uninspiring to me!

So here is my solution – slow roasting and freezing

Take any variety and amount of tomatoes you have on hand.  Slice them in halves or quarters if need be, cherries can stay whole.   Put them in a pan, drizzle with good olive oil, add some minced garlic to taste, along with a good grind of sea salt and fresh pepper.    I wait and add herbs later.  Pop the pan in a 300 degree oven for about 2-3 hours, until you see the tomatoes caramelize.  Remove them and when they come to room temperature, pack into the container of your choice and freeze!

Some cold and blustery Friday night in February, when you are settling in for the weekend and in no mood to go out, take this out of the freezer.  It is delicious served with hot fresh pasta, or you can chop it up more finely and use it as a topping on any kind of toasted bread – it makes a great bruschetta or pizza depending on the herbs and other toppings you choose.   Now you can enjoy your fresh local tomatoes all year!

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic

Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic

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Frozen Foods for when the Ground is Frozen

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.

freezing abundance

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.

Nests of blanched beet greens await their turn in the freezer.

Nests of blanched beet greens await their turn in the freezer.

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.

herb cubes the kitchn

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

Roasted Tomatoes (click for some time travel)

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)

Dreamy Spring Greens

So it’s greens season!  Here’s a little info to help you dive in and enjoy what’s out there this spring.

cropped-farm-pics-nov-04-007.jpg

First, figure out what kind of greens you’re dealing with (or just looking at).  Knowing which plant family your greens belong to gives you a clue about their flavors and complementary seasonings and preparations.  If you know you like spinach prepared a certain way, you’re likely to be able to substitute chard.  The only trick here is to sort out the vegetables that aren’t as enjoyable in their raw form (cooked vegetables are generally a direct substitution, with attention to when the vegetable is cooked to your liking).  Bold words are the plants’ taxonomical family, followed by the most popular leafy foods within that family.

brassica seedlings3

Brassica seedlings before transplant.

Brassicaceae (brass-ih-kay-see-ee): “Mustard” greens, kale, arugula, bok choi, pak choi, komatsuna, mizuna, anything labeled “asian greens,” radishes, turnips (the tops of Haukeri/salad turnips are a great addition to your greens collection); the brassica family also includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kohlrabi.

The brassicas all have a bit of a spicy/mustard-y bite to them, which is mellowed in cooking.  Growing conditions (heat and rain/drought) greatly impact flavor, so one bunch is never like the next bunch!  Because of this, many farmers will let you try before you buy (and if you received a mess of greens from a CSA or subscription box, just get to work sampling!).  All are safe to eat raw, but cooking might be more pleasant for the novice greens-eater.  Pair well with: sesame, soy sauce, miso, black pepper, hot pepper, mixed vegetable sautees, garlic and onions.

Chenopodiaceae (keen-oh-poh-dee-ay-see-ee): Chard, spinach, beets (thus, beet greens), lambs quarters, quelites

Chard (we'll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it's certainly leafy)

Chard (we’ll forgive it for not being 100% green, as it’s certainly leafy)

This family of greens (which translates to “goosefoot” because the leaf supposedly has a similar look as a goose’s foot) cooks from often-giant raw form into just a fraction of its size.  So don’t be alarmed at what seems like too much vegetable for you or your family–cooking will wilt it significantly.  The stems of chard and beet greens, as well as the “crowns” of spinach are worthy edibles, but need a good chopping and cooking to tenderize their fibers.  They pair nicely with creamy-textured foods, so try a nut butter sauce or salad dressing; or stir in yogurt, cream or cheese to cooked greens; of course, they’re a natural fit for making a few eggs into a main dish (and a great way to make your breakfast healthier).

Asteraceae (ass-ter-ay-see-ee): Lettuces, dandelion greens, endive

Though we tend to only think of lettuce as a raw food, give grilled or stir-fried versions a try.  The lower and inner parts of a head of lettuce are often sturdy enough to hold up under a quick, high-heat cooking situation.  Lettuce that’s harvested when it’s hot mimics its more bitter relatives, the dandelion and endive–all of which can be mellowed out with good olive oil, salt, pepper and a little sweetness (think of a honey or fruit vinaigrette and a wilted salad).  With an abundance of lettuce greens, it’s time to perfect a house salad dressing.


 

Storage:  According to sources like How to Keep Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Longer with Less Spoilage, by Tracy Frisch, greens will keep up to two weeks (and we notice that they keep even longer when they’re very fresh) under high humidity and very cool temperatures.  Some great advice can be found at the blog Food in Jars.  In short, keep the atmosphere around the greens moist using damp cloth or paper towels, but avoid directly wetting or compressing wet leaves.  Store greens and the damp towels in containers or the drawers of your fridge to contain the moist air.


Recipe Resources: New York Times’ Recipes for Health: Chard, Beet Greens; Food52’s Greens Contest; Saveur’s cooked greens recommendations; one amazing recipe for getting greens at breakfast (or any time of day you want to eat eggs: Alexandra Cooks Crustless Quiche, Loaded with Kale)