As social distancing and self-quarantining quickly become our new normal, many Americans 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 vegetables, 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 vegetables 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 vegetables 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 vegetables, 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.)
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 vegetables out of the pot, and immediately transfer to an ice bath. The cold temperature of the ice bath “shocks” the vegetables 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 vegetables and not a solid mass.Use clean, freezer-safe containers. The best options to consider are resealable 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 freezer-burn. 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 flavor, 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 favorite 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 vegetables 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 labeling. If properly frozen and stored, produce can last eight to 10 months in the freezer, making it one of the best ways to preserve.