Summer offers some of the most distinct flavors of the year. Freshly harvested corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans taste like nothing else. Whether you have a garden, belong to a CSA or shop at a farmers market, summer is the time to relish the taste of fresh, seasonal produce.
But what to do with all that summer bounty? You can only eat so much. By putting the harvest up in your freezer, you can enjoy summer's flavors in the dark, cold days of winter.
Most vegetables and fruits can be frozen. Some need to be blanched; others can be frozen as is. Freezing is simpler and less time- and labor-intensive than canning or pickling. All you need is space in your freezer, and plastic containers or plastic freezer bags. It also adds convenience, since you can freeze ready-to-cook meals and adjust the portions to fit individual needs.
Sliced, bagged bok choy leaves and stems, ready for the freezer
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
The fresher they are when you freeze them, the more flavor and nutrition is preserved. So don't leave the veggies in your fridge prior to freezing them. Plan to do the freezing soon after you bring them home from the market or CSA.
Freezing requires a little planning. Prepare vegetables the way you plan to use them in your favorite recipes. Slice, dice, shred or chop the way you will need them. For example, we freeze sliced bok choy stems separately from the leaves, because we use them in different recipes. A food processor is a great time-saving tool for this. You can even combine two or more vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, or broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.
Be sure to label the items you put in your freezer with what it is and the date when you put it in there, so you know how long they've been in the freezer. Most vegetables and fruits can be stored in the freezer from eight to 12 months.
Freezing is easy. To freeze zucchini or summer squash, for example, simply cut it into half-inch slices, bag it, and place in the freezer. You can also freeze grated zucchini for baking. Just portion it out into the amount you'll need for a recipe (1 cup, 2 cups, etc.) and pack it straight into zipper freezer bags or containers.
Many vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and snap beans should be blanched. Greens (like spinach or Swiss chard) take much less space in your freezer if you blanch them first. To blanch, immerse them in boiling water for 3 minutes at most. Remove from boiling water and cool immediately by placing in ice water. Pack them in freezer-quality plastic containers or bags and place in the freezer.
There are some vegetables we don't blanch. These include peas, zucchini, cukes, tomatoes and fruits. We also don't blanch cabbage. We shred it and use it in casseroles and sauteed dishes.
To freeze tomatoes, place them on a cookie sheet and freeze until they become hard balls. Then they can be put in the freezer bags and they don't stick together. For use in soups, sauces or casseroles, just run them under warm water and the skin comes off in one sweep. Use in any dishes calling for cooked tomatoes.
This is also how many people freeze berries, though we simply put cleaned, dry blueberries in freezer bags and throw them in the freezer. For strawberries, we wash and slice them, then layer in freezer containers sprinkled with a little sugar. Defrosted, with whipped cream on top and a biscuit underneath, they make great instant strawberry shortcakes. Frozen fruit and berries also make great wintertime breakfast smoothies, yogurt shakes, muffins and pies.
There are some downsides to freezing. It is expensive - both for energy use, cost of the freezer and cost of packaging. To freeze food for the entire winter, you will need a large freezer. Power outages can cause problems, too.
For more information about freezing, check out this USDA website:
Stuffed peppers, Greek style
6 bell peppers, any color
2 c. cooked orzo pasta, prepared according to package directions
1 bunch spinach, arugula or combination
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash peppers, slice in half lengthwise, then remove tops, stems and seeds.
Place peppers in oiled baking dish and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.
Prepare stuffing. Cook pasta and steam greens. Combine pasta, greens and feta cheese in bowl; fill peppers. Place in freezer bags and freeze.
To serve, remove from freezer. Place in oiled baking dish. Decorate tops with diced tomatoes and sliced black olives. Place in preheated 350-degree oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes.
Veggie stuffed peppers
4 bell peppers, prepared as in above recipe
2 small or 1 medium kohlrabi (1 cup diced)
1 carrot (1 cup diced)
1 potato (1 cup diced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 Tablespoons fresh minced parsley
Add 1 cup water or broth to saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the kohlrabi, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, and cook another 2 minutes. Now add the potatoes and a little salt, and continue cooking, covered, until vegetables are desired doneness and liquid is absorbed (If it becomes dry, add a little more broth or water). Sprinkle with lemon pepper and parsley; stir, and taste for seasonings and add a bit more salt or lemon pepper if desired.
Stuff into peppers, and freeze as above. To serve, place in baking dish, thaw in fridge and bake at 350 degrees until hot and ready to eat.
Stuffed zucchini boats
3 10-inch zucchini
1 lb. ground meat, or 2 cups leftover cooked meat
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups leftover cooked rice or other grain
1 Tablespoon fresh minced parsley
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup tomato sauce
Wash squash, cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the center leaving a 1/2" shell, carefully, with a paring knife or apple corer. Be careful not to break the skin. If the squash is too long, cut into 10" lengths.
To prepare stuffing, heat oil or butter in large skillet. Add meat (if using raw meat), onion and garlic. Sprinkle with salt, and cook until onion is translucent and meat is cooked through.
In bowl, combine cooked grain with minced parsley, tomato sauce and beaten eggs. Stir in cooked meat and onions. Stuff into zucchini shells, place in freezer containers and store in the freezer.
When ready to serve, thaw, arrange in a baking dish with a little broth, water or tomato sauce on the bottom. Sprinkle top with a little grated sharp cheese and bread crumbs. Cover and bake at 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash is tender, stuffing is heated through and the top is golden brown.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.