Freeze for freshness

With the right prep work, you can freeze your produce so it lasts as long as possible.

Did you overbuy a bunch of produce in a panic fit with healthy eating intentions, only to realize there’s no way you and your bunkered down partner and pets can get through it? You’re not alone. But don’t force feed yourself all that kale: Here’s how to prep it and other fast-spoiling goods so they last just as long as that box of high-protein quinoa spaghetti you reluctantly had to buy because it was the only thing left on the shelf.

GREENS AND VEGETABLES

There’s no reason to let your supply of vegetables run low just because the frozen varieties are gone or picked over. Buy fresh vegetables and freeze them yourself. All contenders are welcome, especially hearty greens like kale, spinach, swiss chard and mustard/collard/turnip greens, but also cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, as well as carrots, asparagus, green beans, peas, etc.

First, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While that’s happening, set up a large bowl of ice water next to it. Next, chop your vegetables into bite-size pieces (this is not necessary at this stage but makes it easier to use them once you’re ready later) and toss them in the water to cook until they’re al dente. This step is called blanching, and you do it to stop the enzymes in the vegetables that would continue to spoil them, even in extreme cold conditions like the freezer (it helps that it also sets the color of vegetables so they’re vibrant and more pleasing to eat). All vegetables have different cooking times, but similar to the way you test pasta, you want to take a piece of veg out every couple of minutes, depending on what it is, of course, and take a bite: It should be firm but yielding, like biting into a fresh cucumber.

Once the vegetables are ready, drain them (pour the whole lot in a colander if you’re doing just one batch or use a slotted spoon to lift the veg out so you can reuse the water) and plunge them into the ice water to stop them from cooking. Give them a quick stir and let them hang out for about 20 to 30 seconds (no longer or they’ll get waterlogged and soggy), then drain them.

Dry the vegetables well and then portion them into usable amounts in resealable plastic bags or airtight containers. Place them in the freezer and, voila, you’ve made your own frozen vegetables to use whenever you need them, whether that’s two days or two months from now.

FRUIT

While most fruit, like all the in-season citrus we have now, will keep at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks, it doesn’t hurt to get into the habit of freezing fruit too, especially berries, bananas and other soft fruit that will spoil faster. Those who make fruit smoothies on the regular will already know this trick.

First, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then spread your fruit on it. If you’ve got blueberries and raspberries, leave them whole, but hull and quarter any strawberries. Peel and slice bananas into bite-size pieces. Do the same with mango, papaya, pineapple or any other tropical fruit you like. Once laid out, place the sheet in the freezer and let the fruit freeze completely. Then, pop the fruit off the parchment paper and divide the fruit among resealable plastic bags or airtight plastic containers, either by type of fruit or a mix of all. They’ll keep this way for at least a month or more.

When you’re ready to thaw, it’s best to do it overnight in the fridge so the fruit maintains some structural integrity. You’re not really going to want to eat a thawed, frozen berry or piece of pineapple the same way you would if it was fresh, so do these things with them instead: fold them into a loaf cake or muffin batter, blend them into a smoothie or with your yogurt and top with granola, bake them into a cobbler or pie (we’ve got lots of recipes here), or cook them down with some sugar and a splash of lemon juice for a quick jam that you can spoon over toast, ice cream or into a shaker to mix with booze for a fruity cocktail.

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