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How-To

The Big Freeze

A handy guide for freezing all the season’s favorites

Fine Cooking Issue 99
Photos: Scott Phillips
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If you have a vegetable garden in the back yard, or even if you’re just a farmers’ market junkie, you know you can’t possibly use up the season’s bounty of fruits and vegetables. It’s just too much in too little time. If jams and preserves are not your thing, think about freezing, which is a great way to preserve the fresh flavors of fruits and veggies at their peak. And it’s easy—all you need is a baking sheet, heavy-duty freezer bags, and the best your summer garden has to offer (oh, and a freezer, of course). Here’s a handy guide for freezing all the season’s favorites.

How to freeze: three easy steps from fresh to frozen

1. Prepare your fruits or vegetables (Learn how to prep 20 different fruits and vegetables for freezing). Create a level area in your freezer to fit a rimmed baking sheet. If you’re strapped for space, use something smaller—like a cake pan—and repeat the freezing steps below as needed.

2. Line the baking sheet with parchment, foil, or waxed paper. Arrange the prepared fruits or vegetables in a single layer, making sure they don’t touch. Freeze until solid, 60 to 90 minutes, depending on size and freezer temperature.

3. Transfer to heavy-duty freezer bags. Press out as much air from the bag as possible (if you have a vacuum sealer, use it), seal, and store in the back of the freezer (the coldest part) until ready to use. To thaw, transfer the amount you need to a bowl or plate and thaw in the refrigerator.

From freezer to table

Freezing is a great way to preserve flavor, but don’t expect fruits and vegetables that have been frozen to have the same texture as fresh ones. That’s why it’s better to cook with them than eat them out of hand. Here’s how:

Fruits
Frozen: Use in pie or galette fillings and in smoothies.
Partially frozen (5 to 10 minutes out of the freezer at room temperature): Use in sauces, smoothies, cake batters, and pancakes, and as garnishes.
Thawed: Use in sauces, smoothies, and jams.

Vegetables
Frozen: Use in soups, braises, and stews, and steamed.
Thawed: Use in sautés, stir-fries, and purées.
A couple of exceptions: Tomatoes should always be thawed and drained before using in soups, braises, stews, and sauces (don’t use in sautés or stir-fries). Corn on the cob can be steamed frozen but should be thawed before grilling.

Freezer basics

Freezer temp: Set your freezer at 0°F or colder (use a freezer thermometer to check). Many home freezers are opened and closed frequently, causing the temperature to fluctuate. This makes fruits and vegetables thaw slightly and refreeze—not ideal for texture and taste. To prevent this, stash frozen fruits and veggies as far from the door as possible.

Freezing time: Stand-alone freezer (infrequently opened chest or upright): 10 to 12 months. Frequently opened freezer compartment: 3 months.

Why blanch?

Most vegetables benefit from blanching before freezing. The process stops the enzymes’ aging action while slowing vitamin and nutrient loss. It also brightens and sets the vegetables’ color. In general, fruits don’t need blanching (unless it’s to remove the peel). Here’s how to blanch:

1.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (about 2 quarts per 2 to 3 cups of vegetables).
2. Working in small batches, add the vegetables. Allow the water to return to a boil and cook very briefly (see the chart for blanching times).
3. Using a large slotted spoon, scoop out the veggies and immediately immerse them in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove and dry thoroughly before freezing.

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