Over the holiday weekend, I was chatting with my friend J about different methods of preserving tomatoes. I knew that I was going to need to start processing some of our garden produce, and I’m never quite sure what to do with all of our tomatoes. I’ve frozen tomato sauce successfully, but we end up buying a lot of canned tomatoes during the winter. Canning tomatoes safely at home requires a very specific process that I’m just not ready to tackle. Most methods I’ve heard of for freezing tomatoes require you to blanch and peel them first. I’ve done that before, and it’s messy and time-consuming – enough so that I really, really didn’t want to do it. Still, one of my goals this season was to preserve more of our garden tomatoes and reduce our use of canned tomatoes.
I’ve mentioned before that J knows a lot about keeping foods fresh, and this weekend she shared a tip that was almost too good to be true. J said that her Mother-in-Law and Grandmother-in-Law both freeze tomatoes – without blanching and peeling them – using an incredibly simple method. They just lop the top off the tomatoes and toss them in a bag in the freezer. When you defrost the tomatoes, the peel comes right off! Naturally, I was really excited to try this method myself.
I started by picked the ripe garden tomatoes. I’ve read that you get the best results when you process fruits and veggies as soon as possible after picking.
We don’t use any funky chemicals in our garden, but this year we started to get blossom-end rot, so we sprayed a calcium solution on the plant leaves (which was totally effective, by the way). Although the foliar calcium treatment is organic, I still soaked the tomatoes in water to remove any over-spray residue. Then I just cut off the tops, along with any old bits of blossom-end rot and any cracked areas.
I put the tomatoes in plastic bags in the freezer. I pulled a couple out the next morning to see if the method really works. I put the frozen tomatoes in a bowl to defrost (you can also run them under warm water).
After the outside of the tomatoes defrosted, I tried peeling them. Just like J said, the peels slipped right off, and I was left with perfectly peeled garden tomatoes to use in place of purchased canned tomatoes!
I am so thrilled with this easy and effective method of freezing tomatoes! I feel really proud that I can easily put up more of our garden tomatoes and reduce our need to buy canned tomatoes during the winter. Now I’m starting to think that preserving produce can actually be really easy if you just find the right method…and this method is even easier than driving to the store to buy a can of tomatoes!
It seems like everyone I know is overrun with zucchini and summer squash right now. Just one plant in the garden seems to produce more than is possible for a single family to to consume. Every year, I try to think of new and different ways to use it all up, and every year I go back to the same old recipes I know and love. I like zucchini. I don’t want to cover up the flavor, I want to enjoy it! And I’m a lazy cook. I’ve tried my share of complicated recipes, and I generally find that they aren’t worth the time and effort. So, without further ado, here’s an exhaustive look at what we do with all that zucchini: tips, easy zucchini recipes, and how to freeze zucchini to use it later.
Zucchini (and other summer squash) needs to be picked when it’s small and tender. Six to eight inches long is ideal. And make sure to check your plants daily and pick everything that’s ripe. Really get under and around the whole plant – those suckers like to hide, and they get huge before you know it.
You’re going to miss some. Go ahead and shred anything 8-12 inches long to use in baking (more on that later), but compost or trash anything larger. The ruler on the left in the photo below is a foot long…the big zuke on the left is a goner, but everything else can still be used.
My favorite way of preparing zucchini is to grill it on the barbeque. It’s so easy, so delicious, and it actually looks and tastes really gourmet. Here’s my method for grilling zucchini:
1. Cut your zucchini or summer squash lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Don’t cut them too thin, or they will fall apart when they cook.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Grill over medium heat until you have nice grill marks. I do 45 degree angles on both sides, and spear them with a fork to move/flip.
4. Don’t freak out if they’re good and brown but still not tender! Just put them in a covered dish and let them steam…they will finish cooking.
5. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss on some fresh basil. Heaven.
Using Raw Zucchini (Pasta Salad Recipe)
You can absolutely eat zucchini raw. It’s mild and has a soft-but-crunchy texture. You can put it in any kind of salad, or eat it as a crudité, but my favorite way to use it raw is in pasta salad. I’m usually not very brand-conscious, but this recipe is very all-American and brand-loyal. The dressing is key, and it just doesn’t taste the same to me if I don’t use Kraft and Best Foods. Feel free to substitute your favorites at your own risk! Here’s my recipe for pasta salad with zucchini:
8 oz. short pasta (cooked, drained, and rinsed under cold water until cool)
1 zucchini (cut in quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced)
1 red bell pepper (diced)
3 scallions (thinly sliced)
1/2 can medium olives (I leave them whole because John doesn’t like them)
2 slices sharp cheddar (cut in matchsticks)
4 oz. ham (diced if you’re lazy, otherwise matchsticks)
~1/4 c. Best Foods Light Mayo
~1/4 c. Kraft Italian Salad Dressing
Mix the dressing: it’s just half mayo, half Italian salad dressing. Mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing slowly until you have enough for your taste (I hate too much dressing on my pasta salad). Grind a bunch of black pepper over the top.
Simple, right? And infinitely variable. I didn’t have many of the ingredients on hand last night, but I definitely wasn’t going to make a special trip to the store. I whipped up a batch with what I did have: zucchini, red onion, and sharp cheddar. Delish. I really encourage you to experiment with this recipe.
Sautéing Zucchini (Stove Top Method)
Nowadays, my mom grills zucchini (I love you Mom!), but when I was growing up, we only ate zucchini one way: cooked in tomato sauce. I did not like it. The first time I had it prepared any other way was on a trip to Wisconsin, when a distant relative we were staying with sautéed zucchini with butter and basil. It was so delicious, and the first time I realized zucchini could be good. I still enjoy it cooked this way on the stovetop. Here’s my method for sautéing zucchini:
1. In a pan over medium heat, melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan.
2. Slice zucchini crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick rounds.
3. Put the zucchini rounds in a single layer in the hot pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried basil or marjoram.
4. Cook them until they start to brown on the first side, flip them, lower the heat, and cook until they’re just soft (don’t overcook). I spear them with a fork to flip them.
5. Put the zukes on a plate and (important!) drizzle the remaining browned butter over them.
Zucchini cooked this way is seriously unbelievably rich and delicious. John and I ate the entire pan I cooked in about two minutes.
Shredding and Freezing Zucchini
The National Center for Home Food Preservation doesn’t recommend canning zucchini or summer squash, so the only way to preserve it at home is to freeze it. But freezing causes the texture of zucchini to deteriorate. My preferred way to deal with this problem is to freeze shredded zucchini and use it later in baking (where the change in texture won’t be noticeable). I like to freeze my zucchini in pre-measured blocks so I only have to defrost what I need for a recipe. Here’s my method for freezing shredded zucchini:
1. Shred the zucchini finely.
2. Put it in a strainer over a bowl.
3. Let it drain until it’s a little wetter than shredded carrots, then stir it to make sure it’s uniformly moist.
4. Put plastic wrap down on a cookie sheet.
5. Measure half-cups of zucchini, roll them into rough balls, and put them on the cookie sheet.
6. Freeze the shredded zucchini balls on the cookie sheet until they’re solid, then toss them in a freezer bag and keep them frozen until you’re ready to defrost and use them.
Baking with Zucchini (Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)
Last year, my good friend J and her family came for a visit. J brought a batch of zucchini chocolate chip cookies that she baked using her version of Barbara Kingsolver’s recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They were delicious. J’s a great cook, and she also seems to know how to keep every baked good as fresh as the day she baked it. She told me that she always keeps her zucchini cookies in the freezer. In fact, they taste even better right out of the freezer! I now freeze all my cookies, but that’s a tale for another day. I modified Kingsolver’s recipe to use more zucchini and to omit the honey, which I rarely have on hand. These cookies are soft and cakey, not crisp. Here’s my recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies:
1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 c. loosely packed zucchini (finely shredded, drained like I discussed above)
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the butter and the brown sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. With the mixer running, sprinkle in the salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. From now on, be careful not to over-mix. Mix in the zucchini, then mix in the flours until barely mixed. Mix in the chocolate chips. Use 2T of dough per cookie, and make sure there are chocolate chips in every one. FYI, I use a cookie scooper, and I always bake my cookies on parchment on an air-insulated pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until set. After you take them out of the oven, let the cookies set for a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, put those puppies in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer! Makes a little less than 3 dozen.
Note: Okay, I know this could have been, like, six blog posts, but I just don’t work that way. I want all my zucchini madness to be in one (extremely long) post for easy reference. 🙂 I would love to hear how you use and store your abundance of zucchini – the easier, the better. Please share in the comments!
I pretty much stopped drinking coffee earlier this year (doesn’t agree with my tum), so I’ve turned to tea to meet my hot/cold caffeinated morning beverage needs. But – brutal honesty – I am lazy when it comes to making my own. I’m always in a rush out of the house, and it is just so easy to pop in and grab a cup of whatever to go. I can manage hot tea, but not in this weather. Now that it’s summer, I’ve fallen in love with iced tea. It’s not hard to make, and I’ve tried a few methods: hot brewed and cooled, hot over ice, and sun tea. Instant iced tea is deeply unsatisfying and not an option. Hot over ice is a total failure, but the other two work just fine if I plan in advance, which I never do (because I’m lazy). And I don’t really like putting hot liquids in the fridge – I always have to juggle stuff around so the hot stuff isn’t near milk or meat or anything like that, and it’s a pain (and a waste of electricity cooling it off).
I’ve finally hit on a method to make iced tea that I’m not too lazy for – Icebox Iced Tea.
It’s dead simple: a quart of cold tap water, two tea bags, stick it in the fridge, and let it brew overnight. I use a wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar, but any covered container would work. Apparently I’m able to overcome my laziness for the 30 seconds it takes to prepare it in advance – after all, that’s way less time than it takes to get takeout! It comes out pretty strong, which I like because I have it over ice with a generous amount of milk. Since 100 tea bags cost me less than $2, I get my fix for less than a nickel. Being lazy is always satisfying, but saving money at the same time is even more so!