Cold com­forts

How to freeze fresh veg­eta­bles and fruit while pre­serv­ing their best qual­i­ties

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Arts & Life - ANGELA DAVIS

As so­cial dis­tanc­ing and self­quar­an­tin­ing quickly be­come our new nor­mal, many are heed­ing ad­vice to stock their home kitchens for the long haul. For most of us, trips to the gro­cery store will be­come less fre­quent, so it’s sen­si­ble to rely on the ex­tended shelf-life of frozen pro­duce. You won’t be the only shop­per making a bee­line for the frozen foods sec­tion, though.

If you’re faced with slim pickings, don’t worry. Buy fresh veg­gies, then freeze them your­self to pre­serve the nu­tri­ents. Here’s what you need to know:

You can freeze al­most anything. Some foods will fare bet­ter than oth­ers once thawed. You may not be able to use your frozen veg­gies for sal­ads or roast­ing, but there are plenty of ways to use them in cooked dishes such as pas­tas, soups and casseroles. The best veg­eta­bles to con­sider are corn, peas, broc­coli, cau­li­flower, car­rots, green beans, squash and win­ter greens such as spinach, kale, chard and col­lards. Onions, pep­pers, cel­ery and herbs can also be frozen. There’s not much ad­van­tage in freez­ing veg­gies with a high-mois­ture con­tent — this in­cludes cu­cum­bers, cab­bage, radishes, mush­rooms and let­tuce, which would be wa­ter­logged and mushy once thawed.

Blanch­ing is help­ful. Most veg­eta­bles ben­e­fit from blanch­ing be­fore freez­ing. Rinse and pre­pare pro­duce for cook­ing as you nor­mally would. Trim off stems, roots and any dam­aged ar­eas. Shell fresh peas and beans. If you would typ­i­cally peel, de­seed or core the veg­etable be­fore cook­ing, do that now as well. Chop larger veg­eta­bles into a uni­form size.

For greens and most other veg­gies, blanch for two to three min­utes be­fore freez­ing. Work with one type of veg­etable at a time, as some re­quire longer blanch­ing times than oth­ers. (The Na­tional Cen­ter for Food Preser­va­tion has pub­lished a handy chart that can help you de­ter­mine how long to blanch spe­cific foods.)

To blanch:

Bring a large pot of wa­ter up to boil.

Sub­merge the veg­eta­bles in the hot wa­ter for the rec­om­mended length of time. You’re not cook­ing them through, so the veg­eta­bles should still be quite firm af­ter blanch­ing. In the case of greens and herbs, you’re just look­ing for them to wilt slightly and turn bright green.

Use a slot­ted spoon or spi­der to scoop blanched veg­gies out of the pot, and im­me­di­ately trans­fer to an ice bath. The cold tem­per­a­ture of the ice bath “shocks” the veg­gies to halt the cook­ing process. Once cooled, shake dry and pat with pa­per tow­els to ab­sorb ex­cess wa­ter. This will help pre­vent freezer-burn.

Note: There are a few ex­cep­tions, like bell pep­pers, cel­ery and onions, for which blanch­ing isn’t nec­es­sary be­fore freez­ing.

Sheet pans are your best

friend. Blanched leafy greens can be trans­ferred right away to stor­age con­tain­ers, but the ideal way to freeze all other veg­eta­bles is on a sheet pan. Spread them out in a sin­gle layer so that the pieces aren’t touch­ing. Freeze un­til solid. Once frozen, the veg­eta­bles can be trans­ferred to the stor­age con­tainer of your choice. The beauty in this method is that you’ll end up with in­di­vid­u­ally frozen veg­gies and not a solid mass.

Use clean, freezer-safe

con­tain­ers. The best op­tions to con­sider are re­seal­able and reuse­able freezer bags, plas­tic deli con­tain­ers and glass stor­age con­tain­ers with air­tight lids. Cer­tain wide-mouth can­ning jars are ac­cept­able for freez­ing, just be sure to read the la­bel and to leave an inch of empty space at the top. Liq­uids ex­pand once frozen, so the dan­ger in us­ing glass con­tain­ers that aren’t freezer-safe is that they could shat­ter. For this rea­son, it’s not safe to re­use glass jars from items like spaghetti sauce, be­cause they likely weren’t made with tem­pered glass and don’t have a proper seal.

Treat herbs a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. Fresh herbs are more del­i­cate than hearty veg­eta­bles and sus­cep­ti­ble to freezer­burn. Ice cube trays are per­fect for the job. Mince the herbs as finely as you can and fill your tray about 3/4 of the way full. Top the herbs off with olive oil to best pre­serve flavour, but wa­ter works, too. Freeze un­til solid, then trans­fer the frozen herb cubes to a stor­age con­tainer. Now you’ll have per­fectly por­tioned herbs to add to your favourite recipes. There’s no need to thaw in most cases — sim­ply add to your skil­let or pot and let

it melt.

Most fruit can be frozen, too. Frozen fruit is es­pe­cially great for smooth­ies, where tex­ture won’t be an is­sue. But even berries and stone fruit, if frozen prop­erly, will be just fine for pies and baked goods. You don’t need to blanch fruit, but you can fol­low the steps above to prep and freeze them on sheet pans.

La­bel frozen pro­duce and use within eight to 10 months. You’ve done all the hard work to prop­erly pre­pare your veg­gies or fruit for the freezer, so don’t let it go to waste. Use a per­ma­nent marker to la­bel your freezer bags with the con­tents, date and quan­tity. For plas­tic and glass con­tain­ers, freezer-safe tape comes in handy for la­belling. If prop­erly frozen and stored, pro­duce can last eight to 10 months in the freezer, making it one of the best ways to pre­serve.

DEB LIND­SEY FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Frozen fruit is es­pe­cially great for smooth­ies, where tex­ture won't be an is­sue.

Af­ter freez­ing on a sheet pan, veg­eta­bles can be trans­ferred to the stor­age con­tainer of your choice.

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