The end of summer often comes with a wave of seasonal sentimentality: One last garden party. One last weekend by the water. But although new summer adventures may have to wait until next year, food is a different story. Just as generations have done before us, proactively preserving summer’s bounty is an excellent way to not only avoid food waste, but to savor the superior flavor and nutrition of homegrown produce well beyond the last warm days of fall.
When we hear food preservation, we may first think of canning and dehydrating. But freezing is an ideal tool for storing produce at its peak, along with keeping quick, nutritious, ready-made meals on hand.
The key to successful freezer storage is all in the containment. Prepared recipes are best kept in separate, single-meal portions so they defrost more quickly. Sealable plastic bags can work for short-term storage of a few weeks, but reusable glass containers offer better long-term storage, can be stacked to take up less valuable freezer real estate, and are much better for the environment. Most importantly, frozen foods should always be stored in a container with a tight seal to prevent freezer burn and flavor loss.
There is no mandate of what you can and cannot freeze, and you may be surprised at just how much food you can preserve through the simple freezer method. Overgenerous raspberry bush? Freeze the berries for smoothies. Last eggplants of the season? Make a casserole for a future busy night. Purchase too many farmers market tomatoes? Make a double batch of marinara, and freeze half for a fall or winter pasta dish that will sing with flavor. Fill your freezer full of edible treasures now, and reap the rewards for months to come.
Extra Veggies & Herbs
When the vegetable garden, CSA box and farmers market are bursting with the flavors of fresh vegetables, consider preserving some of those fresh-picked nutrients with these dishes perfectly suited to freezer storage.
Veggie Burgers: Don’t let the end of grilling season deter you from enjoying a great burger. Try whipping up a variety of veggie patties combining legumes such as lentils, grains such as rolled oats, and grated vegetables of all varieties (try beets and zucchini), plus a little bit of flax or chia seed powder as a binder. These can be stored uncooked in the freezer for several months, then thawed and pan-seared when ready to enjoy. Be sure to wrap patties individually to keep them from freezing to one another. Or freeze in a single layer on a pan, and then move them into a container together.
Seasonal Soups: Soup is one of the best ways to take advantage of any kind of seasonal produce, from acorn squash to zucchini. It’s almost effortless to double a batch of your favorite recipe, and freeze the remainder in 16- to 32-ounce jars for a meal that can be defrosted in the morning, then warmed for dinner in just minutes. Be sure to keep at least an inch of headspace in the container to allow for expansion in the freezer.
Veggie Wraps: For a simple make-ahead meal, fill a large, whole-grain tortilla (or wrap of choice) with cooked beans, rice or quinoa, and a slew of sautéed harvest vegetables (such as bell peppers, carrots, yellow onion and chopped kale) and top with a handful of nuts and seeds. Wrap into a burrito, and store in a sealed container. Rewarm in an oven or toaster oven when ready to enjoy.
Specialty Sauces: While garden herbs are still at their peak, take advantage of these flavor powerhouses by batch-blending together a variety of sauces and freezing them for future meals. Basil and tarragon make magnificent pestos when blended with olive oil, nuts and salt; parsley, cilantro and oregano can become epic chimichurris with a little red wine vinegar, garlic, oil and chili; mint can be infused with olive oil, vinegar, lemon and a little sweetener to become a versatile sauce; and minced sage can be cooked with coconut oil and shallots for a wonderful addition to hearty dishes. Pour fresh sauces into ice cube trays, a tablespoon or two at a time, and freeze. Once frozen through, pop the cubes out and transfer into a sealable container to avoid freezer burn. This way, you can defrost only the quantity of sauce you need, and have the perfect herbaceous topping for pasta, grain dishes and even winter squash.
A ready-made casserole is a wonderful thing to look forward to, and the act of freezing helps enhance the flavors in these savory dishes. In a casserole dish, layer cooked super-grains, such as sorghum and farro; sautéed, chopped vegetables, such as cauliflower, chard, onion and potatoes; and envelop it all with a creamy sauce made from blended cashews, water, garlic and sea salt. Wrap tightly and freeze, then bake when ready to serve. Of course, casseroles are some of the most flexible dishes in the world, so feel free to add in whatever herbs, vegetables, sauces or other ingredients you want to use up!
Late summer offers plentiful berry and stone-fruit harvests, and these delectable treats can last long beyond their ripeness window when converted into freezer-friendly jams, compotes and sauces.
Smoothie Kits: Farmers market favorites can be enjoyed for months to come in the form of superfood smoothies, and you can make each blend that much easier by filling individual containers with pre-portioned ingredients. To each container, add a cup of bite-size or chopped fresh fruit, such as blackberries, grapes or watermelon, and add 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped smoothie-friendly vegetables such as spinach or kale. You can even add in a scoop of your favorite protein powder or superfood boost. When ready to make a smoothie, simply pour the container contents into a blender, and add nut milk or coconut water to blend.
Freeze bags of berries or peaches to make a quick, fresh, fruit syrup. Simply sauté frozen fruit with a little bit of coconut oil and maple syrup to make a fast summery sauce. For easy homemade breakfasts, double down on the quantity next time you make waffles, and freeze extras in a sealable bag. Now on a winter morning, you can warm your heart and soul with homemade waffles, re-crisped in the toaster, accompanied by a delectable fruit compote.
Fruity Granitas: Granitas make an incredible light dessert and palate-cleanser at the end of a hearty meal. While sophisticated in flavor, they are simple to prepare, and are ideal to make with end-of-summer fruit. Try melons, grapes and strawberries. In a blender, combine the fruit with a little liquid sweetener of choice, such as maple syrup, and add in a complementary herb such as basil, plus some lemon zest to brighten everything. Transfer to a sealable container, and freeze. About once every two hours, scrape the mixture with a fork to create a snowy texture, until fully frozen. Granitas will keep for several months.
Freezer Jam: Savor every last morsel of summer fruit by making a big batch of freezer jam. The benefits to this kind of jam are many: Adaptable to any type of berry or stone fruit, this jam can be made without adding refined sugar and instead relying on cooked mashed fruit, apple juice and pectin. To make, bring half of a package of pectin and 1-3/4 cup juice to a boil for one minute, then pour over the chopped fruit and stir constantly for one minute longer. Transfer to jars, let cool and then freeze. Store it in small sealable containers, each of which will last up to three weeks once defrosted. To find recipes for several quick and easy fruit-and-herb jams (no canning required) visit Jams in a Jiffy.
Kelp is exceptionally high in iodine — far more than any other seaweed (with almost three times as much as dulse). This quality makes kelp exceptionally valuable for thyroid health and weight management. Though it is often sold as a supplement to boost metabolism, why not directly enhance the foods you eat with kelp’s tasty, beneficial flair?
Julie Morris is a Los Angeles-based natural foods chef and author of five cookbooks, including the New York Times bestseller Superfood Smoothies. She is also the founder of Luminberry, the world’s first online superfood cooking school. Find her at LUMINBERRY.