Less Noise, More Green: Eating with the Seasons: cooking with preserved fruit and vegetables in the winter, part one

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eating with the Seasons: cooking with preserved fruit and vegetables in the winter, part one

Dehydrated zucchini and summer squash

Eating fresh and local in New England is not hard May through November. November through April is more challenging. I use extending techniques at both ends of the season to produce more fresh food but there comes a time when all the fresh is gone. We have a winter farmer’s market here were I shop for some local fresh produce, but during the winter months I rely on the produce I preserved during the rest of the year.


I have my recipes organized in binders by season and by which vegetables are in season. I rotate through these binders during the year, which keeps meals interesting and gives us favorites to look forward to every few months.  Winter brings soups, stews, crock pot meals and more hearty fare in general. I have found that the way to work with preserved fruit and vegetables is to not try to use them as if they were fresh. Whether dried, canned or frozen, preserved produce has a different texture and taste to fresh and must be used in ways that utilize these qualities.

Here are some of the ways I use preserved vegetables in the winter, tomorrow I'll share some ideas for cooking with preserved fruit.

Dried veggies are easy to store in dry cool place, but make sure they completely dry before storing (moldy veggie anyone?). Soak the dried vegetable to plump them up or add to soups or stews once the liquid is hot. The flavor of dried vegetables is concentrated, especially with tomatoes, add this flavor to pasta sauces, pesto or salad dressing. Rehydrate and puree, then use as a pizza topping. I like to dehydrate grape tomatoes so no chopping is required when they are re-hydrated. Dropping a handful of dried tomatoes into black bean soup adds a whole new dimension to the dish.

Most fresh veggies must be briefly blanched before freezing , although I freeze whole, shucked, corn on the cobs with out doing so. Put the frozen cobs straight into boiling water and they hold up great!  Frozen vegetables are convenient as you can defrost just what you need, but I find frozen vegetables can be mushy when cooked. I don’t freeze green beans any more for this reason. I like to use frozen veggies in meals with sauces or a gravy such as a pot pie or stew, where the softer texture works. Pureed soups such as carrot are great vehicles for frozen vegetables. If I have to buy vegetables at the supermarket during the winter, I tend to buy frozen produce. It is more nutritious than canned because it is frozen the day it is picked.

I freeze tomatoes using two methods. Firstly, I roast grape tomatoes in olive oil with a little salt and pepper, then freeze the mixture. Once defrosted, these tomatoes make an incredible pasta sauce with intense flavor. Use it as a sauce over chicken with other vegetables.  The second way is to freeze tomatoes whole. Cut out the core and cut an X on the bottom, then pop into freezer bags one pound at a time. To defrost, run under warm water and the skin peels right off. Leave to defrost and either cut them up or squeeze to create crushed tomatoes. Add to recipes as you would use canned tomatoes and add a little tomato sauce to add thickness, if desired.  

I don’t can a lot of vegetables, except dill pickles. I am a fan of making relishes and chutneys, which pair so well with meats and cheeses. Corn relish, one of my favorites, goes great with cheese in a quesadilla.

There is nothing worse than a mushy tomato, or a squishy green bean, but when preserved vegetables are played to their strengths, rather than their weaknesses, they can shine.I hope you return tomorrow for some ideas about using preserved fruit in the dark days winter and a recipe using both fruit and veggies!

See you in the kitchen,

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