Thyme for Cooking: Preserving the Harvest

Freezing herbs: 

Finely chop the herbs and put into plastic ice cube tray.  Cover with chicken stock or water and freeze.  When frozen pop out and put in a freezer bag labeled with herb name.  Some herbs can also be frozen whole: Sage, tarragon, chives, thyme. Basil will discolor but the flavor is fine.  Freeze on a try, then put into freezer bags.  They will keep 8 - 12 months.

To use:  They can go into everything: drop a cube or 2 into rice as it cooks, or sauces, or soups - anything that is cooked that you would use fresh or dried for.  They have the taste of fresh with the ease of dried. 

Note:  If you are buying herbs but not using them all - pop them in the freezer...

Puree basil with olive oil for a pesto-like flavor (Don't add the Parmesan or nuts until you thaw to use.) 

Pumpkin and other Winter Squash:  

To Freeze:  Wash the pumpkin or squash and cut it large pieces.  Remove seeds and stringy bits.  Put skin side down in large baking dish (I use 9 X 13 cake pan).  Cover with foil and bake in 400F (200C) oven for 60 - 90 minutes.  Remove and test with fork.  It should be very done.  When the flesh is cool enough to handle scrape it into a large strainer over a large bowl.  Allow to drain for at least 4 hours or until the next day (refrigerate overnight). 
Measure into freezer bags - 1 1/4 cups for 1 cup of usable squash, 2 1/3 cups for 2 cups of usable squash (you will lose more liquid upon thawing) and freeze.  Keeps for 1 year. 

To use:  thaw in a strainer letting the watery liquid drain into a bowl.  You now have the consistency to substitute for canned pumpkin.  If your recipe calls for water or other liquid, substitute the drained pumpkin 'water'.  I use it in baking, of course, but I also use it as a vegetable, in a lovely first course soup, in risotto, in gratins.... 

To store:    Store pumpkins. butternut squash, other winter squashes, in a cool, dry place, with good air circulation, and at least several inches of stem attached.  Do not pick up by the stem and do not wash before storing.  They will keep several months under proper conditions but check occasionally and remove any they are soft or moldy. Store Acorn Squash the same, but it will not keep quite as long.


Peeling:  Bring a medium pan 3/4's full of water to a boil on high heat.  Drop tomatoes in for 30 seconds - start timing immediately.  Remove tomatoes and drop into a bowl of cold water.  If you are doing a lot of tomatoes you will have to add ice or change water to keep it cold.  Now peel them with a knife or your fingers - peel will come off very easily. (You can peel peaches the same way)


Juice for cooking: Wash tomatoes and cut in half or quarters, removing stem.  Put in a pot big enough to hold all of them easily, cover and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When thoroughly hot and simmering remove from heat and let sit, covered for an hour or so.  Put a large strainer over another pot big enough to hold the juice and dump the tomatoes in.  Stir and mash the tomatoes in the strainer to release all of the juice.  Discard seeds and skin.  Label heavy duty, zip-lock type freezer bags for 1 cup, 2 cups, etc.  Measure the tomato juice and poor into appropriate bag.  Get as much air out as possible and freeze.  

Juice for Drinking: When cooking add 1/4 green pepper, 1 shallot, and 1 rib celery for every 6 - 8 cups tomatoes.  Cook at a low simmer for 2 hours, remove and let sit, covered, until cool enough to work with.  Strain and get juice as above.  Before freezing, measure and add 1 tsp of lemon and 1 tsp salt to for every quart of juice.

Note: When I did this in big batches I would cook 4 green peppers, 1 bunch of celery, 3 big onions and 1 bulb of garlic to a bushel of tomatoes.   1 bushel = app. 15 quarts of juice.

Sauce: Peel tomatoes.  Roughly chop and remove most of the seeds and extra liquid.  Heat to boiling and simmer 10 minutes, uncovered.  Purée in blender, measure and freeze.

Chopped Tomatoes:  Peel tomatoes (see above)  Cut in 1/4ths or 1/8ths, measure and freeze.

Note: You can also freeze whole, un-peeled tomatoes.  The skins easily slip off when thawed. This works well for an abundance of cherry tomatoes.  As for other frozen tomatoes, they are meant for cooking.

Grating tomatoes for fresh sauce: 

Cup half of a tomato in your hand and rub it on the big holes of a box (or other style) grater until all that is left in your hand is the skin.  You'll have to press a bit, but not too hard. Be careful not to grate your hand.  Repeat with as many halves as you think you want/need.  You end up with fresh tomato sauce with no skin... and no cooking. 

Roasting tomatoes:

Cut tomatoes into large chunks.  Sprinkle minced garlic over the tomatoes, drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and roast, 300F (150C) for 2 - 3 hours, until very soft.  Use as is or put into bags and freeze.

Oven dried tomatoes: 

Cut Roma or Italian tomatoes in half the long way (through the stem end).  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and roast, 300F (150C) for 6 - 8 hours.  Eat, refrigerate or freeze in a bag.

To store:  Store tomatoes in a basket on the counter or in the pantry, away from light.  Do not refrigerate as this causes loss of flavor and texture. 

Zucchini (Courgette)

To freeze for soup:  Peel or not, your choice: un-peeled leaves microscopic green flecks in the finished soup which can be quite pretty; peeled leaves the soup a creamy, pale green.  Roughly chop the zucchini and put it into a sauce pan with enough chicken stock to just barely cover.  Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 - 15 minutes.  Turn heat off and let cool.  When cool put into freezer containers or bags and freeze.  I freeze it in 2 cup portions. 

To use for soup: Thaw or not.   Saute a roughly chopped onion in 1 tbs butter in medium saucepan.   When onion is tender add zucchini and 1/2 tsp of thyme.   Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 - 15 minutes. Puree in a blender or use a stick blender.  Add more chicken stock if needed to get desired consistency.  Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, hot in winter, cold in summer.

To freeze for anything else:  Do not peel.  Shred using large holes on box grater.  Put into a freezer bag and freeze.   I freeze 1 1/4, 2 1/2, and 3 3/4 cup bags.  The extra bit is for the liquid that you loose on thawing - if you want a cup of zucchini, freeze 1 1/4 cups.

To use: I toss into stir-fry's, casseroles, vegetable soups, anything where I want a bit more veg.  I also use it on it's own in gratin's, and most of the recipes I use it for fresh in summer.

To store: Courgette will keep for 5 - 7 days in the refrigerator.  Gently brush off any dirt but do not wash before storing.  Take care to not damage the skin of bruise it.


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