26 October 2011

Day 25: Tis the Season for Food Storage

**Sorry for the late time stamp on this post.  I am traveling internationally for the next few days, so my schedule is a little, well, nonexistent.  Be patient and check back, because I've come too far to miss a post in this series.**

I mentioned that some of my staple pantry items are bought seasonally and stored.  Sure, you can buy crushed tomatoes in a can, but fresh is always preferable.  Fortunately, it is amazingly easy to store certain veggies without having to cook or blanch.

At the end of the summer season I bought  several kilos of tomatoes and zucchini at super low prices.  I rely on both of these vegetables for many sauces - tomatoes are an obvious choice, but summer squash can easily be shredded and hidden into several dishes, from sauces to pasta to rice.  When I bought all of these end of season veggies, I brought them home and prepared them for storage in the freezer.  The tomatoes were sliced and mashed with a potato masher and put into freezer containers.  That's all that's needed if you are going to use them for sauces.  The zucchini are just as simple.  Since I tend to sneak it into dishes, I always shred my zucchini.  So I shredded it, put it into freezer containers, and popped in the freezer.  Both of these vegetables will last for several months this way.  And because I bought them fresh and froze them right away, they will still have a lot of nutrients when it comes time to use them.

I also buy spinach in the spring and summer when it is in season, but it requires slightly more work to store.  By work, I mean that it is best to cook the spinach first.  But cooked spinach will keep for a long time in the freezer, and it's great to sneak into pizza and pasta sauces.  I simply sauté the spinach in a pan, let it cool, and place in the freezer in potion sized containers.  Don't freeze it all together because the high water content will turn it into one large green ice cube.  Alternatively, you can freeze it in a single layer on a baking sheet and then place into a large container once frozen.  Just grab a couple pieces to puree into sauce and you are set.

I've tried blanching and freezing some other types of vegetables with mixed success, but that is largely a matter of taste and how they will be used.  We tend to stir fry a lot, and I prefer fresh vegetables for that.  Fortunately, stir fry can be changed depending on what is in season, so I just skip anything that is out of season.  But feel free to try your hand at freezing other types of vegetables.  Many fruits can be stored in the freezer as well.  For instance, if  one of our bananas gets overripe, I just pop it into the freezer.  When I've accumulated a few, I use them for banana bread.  Once thawed they are the perfect texture for bread, without mashing.  Berries can be frozen on baking sheets and then put into a freezer bag.  I grab a few to put on oatmeal or enjoy in fresh smoothies year round.

Not sure what is in season in your area?  The internet is full of resources to give you an idea of what to buy when.  Pay attention at your local market or grocery: prices will dip for produce that is in season and go even lower for produce obtained locally.  Not only is this strategy cost effective, it will give you a huge advantage when cooking home made:  taste.  You and yours will notice a difference immediately.

Trust me.  I've been there.

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