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Prolong summer's bounty by freezing

August 20, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: We are two crazed foodies who vowed a frozen vegetable never would cross our lips ... until now. The farmers market is practically paying us to buy big bags of produce, and this would save us a ton of dollars this winter. So my question is, how to freeze vegetables? -- Cheapskate Cook

Dear Cheapskate Cook: It's hard to pass up what we can buy right now for half of what we'd pay later on. When food is frozen right, eating it isn't a sacrifice.

Even if you live alone, it's worth putting your freezer compartment to work beyond making ice and keeping pizza.

Freezing vegetables breaks down to three steps.

1. Blanching, which involves briefly cooking the produce in boiling water to stop the enzyme actions that can degrade its texture, taste and nutrition.

2. Rapidly cooling the hot produce in ice water and draining it thoroughly so it doesn't go into the freezer wet.

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3. Tightly wrapping or packing it, to minimize exposure to moisture or air in the freezer.

When blanching, use a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling unsalted water. Don't crowd the vegetables; figure 1 gallon of water to 1 pound of vegetables. Scoop them out with a big strainer so you can keep using the same water.

Blanching times vary. Here are recommended times for some of the most popular vegetables:

Two minutes: pencil-slim asparagus, small fresh beans (lima, pinto, fava), diced carrots, sugar snap peas, most greens and cubed turnips and parsnips.

Three minutes: green beans, broccoli florets, medium asparagus, small brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, whole kohlrabi, halved sweet peppers and zucchini.

For more information on blanching times; consult Web sites such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/index.html). For an understanding of the science behind freezing produce, go to the University of Minnesota's site at http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/nutrition/DJ0555.html.

Dear Lynne: This summer, peppers are incredibly good and I must roast a couple of pounds every week while grilling supper. Some variety is needed. What do you do with roasted peppers besides oil and balsamic vinegar? -- Davis

Dear Davis: It's almost absurd how easily peppers grill into a great snack, starter or side dish. Serve them at room temperature with all kinds of toppings.

To break the balsamic/olive oil habit, try rolling the peppers in Asian sesame oil (made with toasted sesame seeds and intensely flavored) and soy sauce before grilling. Once the peppers are lightly caramelized, take them off the grill and sprinkle them with minced fresh ginger.

Fresh dill, sour cream and lemon juice are a Scandinavian way with peppers, while stuffing them with pureed chickpeas, garlic and lemon (hummus -- store-bought or homemade) gives them a Middle Eastern take.

Italy is hard for me to resist, as in this pepper recipe from Puglia.

ROASTED PEPPERS WITH
GARLIC CROUTONS AND SUMMER HERBS



o Serves 3 to 4 and doubles easily.

The peppers and olive topping will hold in the refrigerator a week, but add the bread and herbs just before serving.

8 herbed or oil-cured black olives (Nice, Moroccan, Kalamata or Sicilian), pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 large yellow and red bell peppers (2 each), halved or quartered, with seeds removed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 thick slice stale coarse bread (ciabatta, baguette or sourdough), cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1/3 cup)
2 teaspoons each of chopped fresh Italian parsley, oregano and basil

In a medium bowl, blend together the olives and vinegar.

Place the bell peppers in a bowl and toss them with enough olive oil -- a couple of spoonfuls -- to lightly coat them. Place peppers on a hot grill or in a heated skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cook about 2 minutes per side, or until they begin to soften. Transfer the peppers to the olive mixture.

Film the bottom of an 8- or 10-inch skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bread cubes and salt and pepper, to taste. Stir constantly, toasting the bread to golden, about 3 minutes. Add the fresh herbs at the last minute, so they're barely heated but their fragrance opens up. Immediately turn into a bowl.

To serve, arrange the peppers and olives on a platter. Spoon the croutons and herbs over them.

(Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show for people who love eat, and is the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions." Ask questions and find Lynne, recipes and station listings at www.splendidtable.org or 800-537-5252.)

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