Of all the ways to preserve food, freezing is probably my favorite. It’s a great way to preserve the nutrients of fresh food for an extended period of time, leaving one with lots of meal ideas. It is relatively quick and you don’t need any fancy equipment, just some extra storage containers. The downside, however, is space. Unless you have a deep freezer, you will be limited on the amount of food you can safely store in the freezer (your freezer won’t work efficiently and keep food as cold as it should be if it is stuffed to the brim).
If you aren’t familiar with freezing food, check out this, this and this website for information on how freezing food works and how to do it safely. Here are the tips I think are most important:
- Click here for a list of foods that don’t freeze well.
- Click here for a run down of storage containers.
- To this, I would add that I prefer freezing items, especially sauces, in ice cube trays. Once frozen through, I transfer the cubes to a ziperlock bag. Others have recommended freezing soups and stews in a similar fashion but in muffin tins.
- Here is a general guideline on how long foods can be frozen. Note: this depends on if food is stored in the appropriate package and at the correct temperature.
- No one likes freezer burn – here are some great tips on how to avoid it.
Below are some of my favorite ways to make the most out of my seasonal produce and freezer space.
- Soups & Stews:
- Most soups and stews are great for the freezer but here are a few that ARE NOT:
- Cream or dairy based soup/stews might separate when thawed (although it is possible to whisk to recombine)
- Soups/stews that include delicate seafood won’t have a great texture when reheated
- Those thickened with eggs or cornstarch may turn out watery
- Potatoes change texture and breakdown when thawed, which might be ok depending on the dish, but just something to keep in mind
- Here are some ideas for soups and stews that work really well in the freezer:
- Pureed soup: winter squash, tomato, potato, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots all make an excellent base for pureed soup. I haven’t tried this yet, but I doesn’t this pureed Kale and Apple Soup sound like a great way to make a freezer ready meal with your greens?
- Lentil/bean soup/stew: red lentils are a staple at my house (typically curried red lentils with greens) and they make a fantastic make ahead meal that is perfect for the freezer. This is a pretty straight-forward recipe that can be doctored up anyway you like. But don’t limit yourself to lentils – chickpeas, black beans, white beans and pinto beans are all great.
- Grain based soup/stew: almost all grains will freeze well except for white rice. It usually turns mushy. Stick with brown or wild rice (like this recipe) and you shouldn’t have any problems.
- Meaty soup/stew/stew: chilis and other meat based soups and stews freeze really well.
- Most sauces, unless cream based, will freeze really well. Here is just a brief list of options:
- Tomato based sauces, such as marinara
- Oil based sauce, such as chimichurri
- Pureed sauces, such as pesto
- Peanut sauce
- Fruit based sauces, such as cranberry sauce
- BBQ sauce
- Blanched Veggies:
- Raw vegetables need to be blanched before freezing in order to stop the enzymatic activity that will degrade the nutrients, flavor and color. This is a great overview on the blanching process and how long to blanch different types of vegetables.
- Veggie Cubes:
- This is great for the weeks when you can’t get through all of your greens. Simply add the leaves and any tender stems to a blender with a couple cups of water. Process on high until fully broken down. Add more greens, process again, and continue this process until you have a thick but still flowable puree. Pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze until frozen through, usually about 12 hours. Remove cubes from the tray and place in a zipper lock bag. Use in smoothies, soups or stews.
- Fruit is one of the easiest things to freeze: wash fruit and dry thoroughly. Place on a lined baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to a plastic bag or vacuum sealed bag.
- Compound Butter:
- Compound butter is a so easy to put together and can turn a boring meal into something special. It is also a great way to integrate any herbs you haven’t found another use for. I make a batch, freeze it, and then slice off chunks and add it to anything that needs a little flavor boost. You don’t really need a recipe: just add some of your favorite flavors to softened butter until well combined. Then form the butter into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze (here is a step-by-step tutorial). I recently made a compound butter with parsley, green garlic, smoked paprika and sweet paprika and it is a big hit!
- It never occurred to me that you can freeze hardy herbs such as rosemary and thyme right on the branches. This blog post reports almost fresh tasting herbs after a year in the freezer!
- Place chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro or basil, in ice cube trays and cover with olive oil or water. Freeze until frozen then transfer to a plastic bag.
- Baked Goods:
- Baked goods, such as quick breads, muffins and snack cakes are great for the freezer. We will all get sick of zucchini by the end of the summer, at which point it’s time for zucchini bread! But don’t limit yourself to zucchini – try sweet potatoes, beets, and squash in your quick breads.
Let us know your tips, tricks and favorite freezer recipes!