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Freezing Food to Preserve Local Flavor

Bret S. Beall
Chicago, IL

Seasonal
Soups & Sides
Autumn

THE JOY OF FREEZING TO PRESERVE NATURE’S BOUNTY


Are you freezing? Right now, that could be both figuratively and literally true. As we approach the end of the Green City Market Season, I want to provide you with some options for preserving the end of the harvest season, and give you some ideas for the beginning of the next season. Stock up now!

The key theoretical point is to prepare the ingredients so that freezing does the least amount of damage to them. This usually involves some cooking ahead of time to remove water that would damage the cells and harm the texture of the ingredients. Here are some tips for dealing with specific produce (all techniques assume well-washed ingredients).


Tomatoes:

Roast as described at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesOctober03.html , or turn them into flavor-packed ragout such at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSeptember03.html .

Mushrooms:

Slice into bite-sized pieces, lightly salt and sauté in butter until limp, transfer to storage container, deglaze pan with water and cover mushrooms in container with the flavored water; freeze.

Winter Squash:

Slice squash in half lengthwise; place in baking dish cut side up; season with salt and pepper, and any other desired flavor (butter, maple syrup, cumin, etc.); add water to 3/8” in baking dish; bake at 400F for about 45 minutes; scoop out soft flesh to a cutting board and chop to shorten any long strands; continue mashing, place in freezer container, and freeze. See http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesNov03.html for more instructions.

Root Vegetables (carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, celeriac, etc.):

Cut into ½” cubes/pieces; place pieces in a steamer over water in a pan with tight lid; steam cubes over medium high heat until soft; transfer to a frying pan with heated olive oil (and perhaps sautéed onion, garlic and/or any greens) and mash until well-pureed; freeze in containers.

Beets:

Remove greens (if present) and treat as a leafy greens (below); wrap whole beets in aluminum foil (optional: add salt, pepper and olive oil); seal foil tightly; roast in a 400F oven for 30 to 90 minutes (test doneness with a knife); peel roasted beets, slice about ¼” thick, place in a single on plastic film, wrap and freeze. More directions at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesOctober03.html

Leafy Herbs (basil, cilantro, arugula, sage, etc.):

Puree each herb separately in a food processor or blender, place 1T in each division of an ice cube tray, cover with water, freeze, store in plastic bags (to use, shave as much herb off each cube as needed, and return cube to freezer bag); or turn into pesto (see http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJune04.html , http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSept04.html and http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMay05.html

Leafy Greens (beet, arugula, sorrel, spinach, etc.):

Use whole if leaves are small, or slice in ½” ribbons; sauté in olive oil with salt and pepper, freeze in 1c portions; or make a pesto (see http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMay05.html).

Rigid Greens:

Slice in ½” ribbons; sauté in olive oil with salt, pepper and perhaps already-sautéed onion; when limp, transfer to a 1c container; freeze.

Onions:

Cut into ¼” dice; freeze raw.

Garlic:

Puree with a little olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays, or roast and freeze the cloves whole.

Celery:

Slice in ¼” pieces; sauté in olive oil until limp; freeze in 1c portions.

Berries:

Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet; freeze; when frozen, transfer to 1c or 2c containers.

Sturdy Fruits (apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, etc.):

Slice in thin wedges, sauté in olive oil or butter; freeze in 1c or 2c portions.

Melons:

Cut in 1” cubes; puree and freeze.

Cheese:

I like to stock up on hard-to-find cheeses; soft cheese freeze well; hard cheeses can be grated and frozen for pasta, or frozen whole and grated/melted afterwards for different applications

Other hints:
  1. Freeze in pre-measured quantities: Put 1 T into each division of an ice cube tray. Recycle plastic containers you may have on hand by putting 1 c or 2 c in appropriate containers.
  2. Wrap oddly shaped items, or items that need to freeze fast, in plastic wrap.
  3. Label everything with identity and date. Use adhesive labels, or write using a china marker or similar indelible pen.
  4.  Use your senses to determine whether something is good. Freezer burn has a distinctive appearance and aroma.
  5. Experiment! You may discover a new secret to freezing the deliciousness and nutrition of local, sustainably produced organic produce.

Applications: Because texture is often a victim of freezing, the use of these products must be well-considered. The vegetables (and cheese) are great in quiches, risottos, soups, gumbos, savory bread puddings/stuffings/dressings, or as a side dish, bed or sauce with pan-fried fish or meats/poultry, or a roast (butterfly a roast and stuff with these frozen vegetables). The fruits work in muffins, quick breads, cakes, pies, gelatos, ice creams and sauces.


Following are some general recipes that freeze very well:


BRET’S “PERFECT” PESTO

I don’t believe in anything being perfect, but I have tweaked this recipe for 20 years. This is the version that has stabilized, and it’s so darned good that even pesto-haters love it! This is also one of the few recipes for which I recommend using a blender. Alternatively, a food processor can be used, but I don’t like the resulting texture. Traditionally, Italian cooks created pesto in a mortar and pestle, so if you are feeling traditional, give it a try!

  • 3 c fresh basil leaves, tightly packed (do NOT use dried basil; I tried it, and was NOT happy)
  • 1 c parsley leaves, tightly packed (curly parsley adds a pleasant spiciness, while Italian parsley adds a “mellowness”)
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (about 2 T)
  • ¼ c pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  • ¼ c walnuts, toasted and cooled
  • ½ c extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 t red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ c grated pecorino, asiago or parmesan cheese (cotija and anejo will also work, as will ricotta salata)

Combine the garlic, basil and parsley in the bowl of a blender, add the olive oil on top, and then the nuts, salt and red pepper flakes (if using); blend until smooth, stopping the blender often and using a spoon to force the leaves into the blender blades. To facilitate blending, it may be necessary to add up to ¼ c cold water (in one T portions). After the pesto is completely smooth, add the cheese, forcing it into the pesto, and pulsing the blender until the cheese is incorporated. Use about 1 T of pesto per serving of pasta (¼ lb pasta prior to cooking); use a bit of the cooking water to loosen the pesto in the bowl prior to adding the cooked pasta, and grate some additional cheese on the pasta prior to serving. This recipe will yield about 8 to 12 tablespoon-sized portions (depending on how tightly you packed the basil and parsley); extra pesto can be frozen in tablespoon size portions for up to a year (NOTE: some writers explain that for pesto to be frozen, the cheese must be omitted [some even say to omit the garlic, and others say that if you do this, you can keep it for only a month]; I never understood these, so I never paid any attention, and have kept pesto for a year in the freezer, until the next season of fresh basil comes and I can make more pesto for the following year). Pesto can also be frozen in larger portions, if that is more convenient for you. More pesto information can be found at:
http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSept04.html , http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJune04.html , http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMay05.html , or just browse http://www.god-dess.com


CHEESE STRAWS/CRACKERS


Cheese straws are a southern US classic. Every holiday season while I was growing up, my parents would make their own version based on an original recipe that came with their Wear-Ever cookie press. They replaced some of the requisite cheddar with Maytag bleu, and I have followed that tradition below. Not everyone owns a cookie press, and most of the newer ones will not handle the stiff cheese dough, so my straws are rolled out and cut into narrow strips before baking. I think they are irresistible (and so do others!).

  • 4 T butter (1/2 stick), refrigerated or frozen, grated finely
  • 4 oz finely grated cheddar (sharp or extra sharp), or aged goat cheese (the better the cheese, the better the final product! Use some of the artisanal cheese from the Green City Market for great results) (about 1.5 or 2 c, very loosely packed)
  • 1 oz finely chopped/grated bleu cheese (use your favorite bleu; the bleu cheese adds an extra “bite” to these crackers) (about ½ c, loosely packed) (optional; increase cheddar or aged goat cheese if not using, or add your favorite strongly-flavored cheese, such as parmesan or pecorino or feta)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper, chile powder, chipotle powder, smoked paprika (hot or sweet) or cayenne (optional; or increase to 1 T if you like things extra spicy)
  • 3/4 c flour
  • up to 2 T water, ice cold (only if needed)
  • up to 2 T additional flour for rolling out the dough

Place the finely grated butter, finely grated cheddar (and finely chopped/grated bleu, if using) in a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the water. Using a fork (or two knives used to slice against each other in opposite directions), mix the ingredients until the cheese is well mixed with the flour, and the butter is incorporated evenly throughout the mixture. Use your hands to begin kneading, squeezing the ingredients between your fingers to fully blend. A ball of dough will form in the bowl; if it is loose, add the cold water 1 t at a time and knead until the ball comes together. Using your hands, compact the ball, and add any loose bits of ingredients left in the bowl. Keeping the dough ball in your hands, continue mixing the ingredients by continually flattening the dough into a slab and folding it onto itself, moving in opposite directions, about 4 or 5 minutes. Flatten the well-blended dough to a slab about 1” thick, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and from the plastic wrap, and divide in half. Shape the first half into a long tube approximately 12” to 15” long, and 1” in diameter; flatten the tube so that the width is about 2” and the thickness is about ½”. Shake about 1 T flour onto the working surface, place the tube on the floured surface, and using a rolling pin or tall drinking glass, roll out the dough to about 18” long and 2-3” wide and 1/8” thick. Slice into strips ¼ to 3/8” wide and 2-3” long, and place the strips on an ungreased cookie sheet (not touching, but quite close). Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes (there is a fine balance between crispy straws and overly-browned straws … practice makes perfect) until the edges are slightly browned but the centers are pale. Remove to a towel or a paper towel to cool. Store in an airtight container. These straws can be frozen up to one year.

More cheese cracker information can be found at: http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril04.html, or just browse www.god-dess.com.

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