It’s that time of year again: Back to school! But it’s not just for the kiddos this time, you’re going back to school, too. Cooking school! Each month I’ll be highlighting a few different cooking techniques and procedures via video tutorials to help you better understand cooking at it’s core. First up, some simple and easy techniques for freezing, drying and preserving fruits and vegetables without canning (that’s for another video).
Whether you grow your own fruits and vegetables, or you just love to load up at the farmer’s market, these techniques are all great ways for extending their otherwise short lives. Nothing brightens up a winter day quite like biting into some summer-grown produce!
Watch the video, then see below for more detailed instructions! Have any questions? Other methods for preserving? Let me know in the comments!
Freezing Fruits + Vegetables
Freezing is, in my opinion, the quickest and easiest way to preserve fruits and vegetables for later use. Certain vegetables require blanching prior to freezing (most fruits do NOT), so be sure to check the list below before proceeding.
Select fruits and vegetables that are at their peak of ripeness. Once frozen, fruits and vegetables will not continue to ripen, so if they’re very firm and unripe, be sure to wait a few days until they soften up. On the contrary, overripe fruits and vegetables are best made into sauces or jams before freezing, as they will not hold their shape once frozen.
Wash and prep will vary depending on each fruit or vegetable you’re working with (see list below for details). Blanch, remove hulls, stems, seeds, peels, slice, chop, or remove from the cob as needed. Be sure to thoroughly dry each fruit or vegetable prior to the next step, as excess water will lead to freezer burn down the line.
Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper – this will help prevent anything from sticking or freezing to the pan. Arrange the prepped fruits or veggies in a thin, even layer. Be sure not to over crowd the pan, and use as many as needed to get the job done. This will allow the fruits and vegetables to freeze individually and not clump together and form one solid mass.
Freeze! This will take several hours, and best done overnight, as you want the fruits and vegetables to be totally solid throughout.
Transfer frozen fruits and veggies into a zip top bag and remove the air. Seal the bag all the way, except for a tiny spot where you can insert a straw. Suck out as much air as possible and quickly seal the bag. This will help prevent ice crystals from forming, aka freezer burn. You can also use a vacuum sealer if you have one. Label, date, and store for up to 18 months in the freezer.
Certain vegetables require blanching prior to freezing. This is to preserve their color and texture once frozen. See below for the list of fruits and vegetables that require blanching.
Bring a large pot of water up to a boil and add a generous amount of salt – it should taste like the ocean. The salt helps preserve the color and texture, and will add very little seasoning to the vegetables themselves.
Drop in the vegetables and cook for the determined amount of time (see below). Be sure to work in batches, and do not add too many vegetables at once, so that the water is at a constant rolling boil
Remove the vegetables from the pot and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water. Once the vegetables are cool, thoroughly dry them and proceed with the freezing instructions above.
Vegetables To Blanch Before Freezing:
These are the most common vegetables I can think of. If it’s not listed here, be sure to google it first. Times will vary depending on the size, so use your best judgement.
Asparagus: 2-4 minutes
Green Beans: 2-3 minutes
Broccoli/Cauliflower: 3-5 minutes
Brussels Sprouts: 3-5 minutes
Cabbage: 1 1/2 minutes
Carrots: whole 5-7 minutes; sliced 2 minutes
Corn on the Cob: 4 minutes
Greens: Tough (kale, collards, etc.) 3 minutes; Tender (spinach, chard, etc.) 2 minutes
Peas: Sugar Snap (in pod) 3 minutes. Shelled 1-3 minutes
Bell Peppers: (sliced) 2-3 minutes
Potatoes, Winter Squash, Beets, Turnips and other Hard Root Vegetables: Cook until tender throughout
Summer Squash / Zucchini: (sliced) 2-3 minutes
*Tomatoes + Peaches/Plums/Nectarines may be blanched for 30 seconds (score an X in the peel) in order to peel before slicing and freezing. However, it is not necessary if freezing whole, as the skins will slip right off after defrosting.
I love having dried chiles on hand to add a bit of heat to soups, sauces, salsas and even cocktails. Thin skinned varieties are best suited for drying, such as arbol, habanero, ancho, cayenne, cascabel, pasilla, guajillo, and espellete. Thicker fleshed varieties such as long hots and jalapeños are best preserved in oil (directions to follow).
Select chiles that are fully ripened (red) and fresh. Wash and dry them thoroughly.
Place the chiles on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Turn the oven on to it’s lowest setting, and allow the chiles to “cook” until totally dried out. This will take about 1 to 4 hours, and may also be done in a dehydrator. Unlike most other things cooked in an oven, it’s actually encouraged to open the oven to check on the peppers often, as the temperature should stay as low as possible to dehydrate the chiles rather than cook them.
Transfer to an airtight container, and store in a cool, dry place for up to two years.
Preserving Chiles in Oil:
I learned this technique from the Pullella family, who always have some of these delicious chiles on their table and in their fridge. Serve them as a condiment for sandwiches and pizza, stir them into pasta sauce, use them in salsa, or just pile them on to a crusty piece of bread (if you’re brave).
Choose fresh chiles (red or green), as hot or as mild as you like. Wash and dry them thoroughly, then slice them into thick rounds. It is STRONGLY advised to wear gloves while you do this, especially if your chiles are very hot.
Place the chiles in a large, heavy bottomed pan (I love cast iron), pour in a generous amount of olive oil, and season with salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often and reseasoning with salt as needed.
Step 3: Transfer the chiles to a jar or container, and pour more olive oil over the top until they’re all fully submerged. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.