Exit Strategy: Blanching and Freezing Veggies
If you are living the CSA farm share dream, you know that the day before the next pickup is the day to get last week's produce dealt with.
For many CSA newcomers, it is a time when guilt comes into play. For whatever reason (too many take out burrito nights, not loving the third week of kale, etc.) there are veggies left over that need to be used.
Enter: Exit Strategies! AKA, the compost's worst enemy. . .
Exit Strategies are ways to make your vegetables last longer. Read: that kale that you just can't look at now, you'll want it in your fall soup. In fact, you might even crave it. You might even jump for joy to have that taste of summer when you are in your sweater looking out at the bleak sheet of ice-snow.
So, one of your main exit strategies is the dynamic duo: blanch and freeze! There are more , roasting, freezer meals, sheet pan meals, broth, pesto, sheet pan meals, and soup to name a few. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
What it is: you usually blanch veggies so that they retain their flavor after freezing. So this is a step to freezing your veggies. You don't have to blanch all vegetables before freezing them. With greens, it helps because they get a lot smaller, and easier to store.
What veggies need blanching: beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, and Brussels sprouts
What veggies you can skip blanching: tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash
stock pot, half filled with water, boiling
Colander (great if you have those kind that fit inside your stock pot)
Salt (this helps keep the nutrients/minerals in the veggies, very important addition)
Ice bath (BIG bowl of lots of ice and water)
Tongs or a slotted spoon
Get everything ready beforehand, because the process moves fast once you put your veggies in the boiling water. Put your stock pot on high heat, and get the water on a steady boil.
If you are blanching a larger veggie, chop it up into equal sized pieces.
If you are doing multiple veggies, start with the veggie with the least amount of color, and work toward the darkest. I've never done both beets and dark greens, but my guess is that once you get dark, it doesn't matter. But if you do beets then cauliflower you have a bloody mess. And I'm not being English here.
Add the veggie to the water.
Using this guide, leave it anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes. Or, you can taste it every minute so you have control over whether it still has some crunch, or is cooked a bit longer. Most will need between two and five minutes.
Remove it from the heat, and transfer the veggie to the ice bath (I like to use tongs or the small sieve). Keep it in the ice bath for as long as you blanched it. For example, you blanch spinach for about 30 seconds, so you leave it in the ice bath for a minimum of 30 seconds.
Drain it. You can put it all through a colander if you are done, or if you want to do another batch, use the tongs or slotted spoon. Have I mentioned how much I love tongs? They are a kitchen essential. Anyway. . .
If you are doing a bunch of veggies, you can reuse both the boiling water and the ice bath. Make sure to replenish your ice bath always has some ice in it.
Bonus: when you blanch a veggie, it is half cooked! This makes it easy when you pull it out of the freezer to add it to a casserole, soup, quiche, etc.
Second bonus: when you blanch and freeze greens, they get sweeter!
Once you've blanched (or not) your veggie, you move to freezing.
Freezer bags or containers (mason jars, glass containers with plastic lids, hard-sided plastic containers)
Keep track of what is in your freezer. One of our CSA share members has an actual map of her chest freezer. It is helpful. She crosses things off when she uses them.
I tend to use Zip Lock bags in either the quart or gallon size. I learned a trick from a community gardener to freeze them flat and then they can be stored like books on a shelf. You can even put a label on the side like a book spine.
When you freeze, think about what you will do with the veggie when you defrost. Are you adding it to soup? Are you making a sauce? Are you roasting it? Will this be a component of a dish, or the main substance of the dish? Adding it to eggs or your smoothie? This will inform how you chop it and how much of it you put in a bag at a time.
I always label the bag with the contents, the amount (1 cup or 4?) and the date.
If you are working with a green, consider balling it in cup sized servings and freezing them that way.
For example, I like to freeze my tomatoes whole and then crush them into a sauce or other dish later. Plus the skins come right off! I also then have time to play with in the crush of fall preserving.
Other exit strategies will be covered in future weeks. I have covered bone broth from kitchen scraps previously, so check that out if you are curious.
What are your exit strategies?