The chilly nights of late have me recalling the frozen months of the year. I’m also remembering how happy I am in the winter when I have frozen vegetables and fruits on hand to provide a taste of summer through those cold winter months. We are lucky to have a chest freezer, and enjoy keeping it stocked up with good farm food. To have good-quality frozen food, there are three main things you need to do:
1) Pack the food so it won’t be oxidized: use the freezer-quality (thicker) plastic bags, or freezer containers. Pack containers with just enough headspace for expansion during freezing, or squeeze out the air from bags.
2) Don’t try to freeze too much at once, and make sure the food is chilled prior to placing it in the freezer. The idea is to freeze the food quickly.
3) Some produce can go right into freezer bags, but some keeps better if cooked or blanched. You can freeze cored, sliced, peppers without blanching. If I’m freezing tomatoes, I like to oven-roast or grill them first, or cook them down into sauce. Some foods hold up better if you blanch them prior to freezing. These include vegetables such as green beans, peas, asparagus, and corn. These vegetables have enzymes that convert sugars to starch (among other things), and blanching prior to freezing stops this process.
|Have you found the Romano (flat) green beans? They’re delicious.
|To take green beans as an example, I personally like to blanch them right after picking. I bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil; I put the beans into a colander that fits nicely into the pot and blanch small quantities of beans at a time. The idea is to work in batches small enough that the water will come back to a boil in less than a minute. After 3 minutes of boiling, I remove the colander, rinse the beans under cool water, and then spread them out on a kitchen towel to cool quickly. They are then ready-to-go for cold or warm bean salads, or to freeze for the winter. To reduce the wasteful feeling of boiling a large pot of water for one use only, I try to be organized enough to blanch the beans, and then use the boiling water to cook up some pasta.
But back to Summer eating. In summer, what’s our favorite way to eat green beans? Well, at least once each summer, we enjoy a beautifully composed Salade Nicoise. It feels fancy. It showcases green beans, and so many other fabulous farm foods: new potatoes, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and sunshiny eggs. Serve with warm French bread and some nice cheese for a beautiful dinner on a warm night.
Leftovers make excellent picnic food in the form of Pan Bagnat. You can slice a loaf of French bread lengthwise and crisp it up in the oven for a few minutes. In the morning, scoop out or press down some of the bread innards to make bread ‘boats,’ and then fill the bread with Salade Nicoise. Close up the sandwich, wrap in aluminum foil, and enjoy a great lunch. Sundays at Moosewood reports that: “Everywhere along the coast of France, a ‘pique-nique sur mer” is a popular family outing. Pan Bagnat, which means, literally, ‘bathed bread,’ is almost always taken along with the bathing suits.” One evening, our family fell out of our chairs laughing, because I was convinced that I’d read that the French traditionally sit on their ‘Pan Bagnat’ in order to meld the flavors in the sandwich. Incredulous, Jeremy looked up the recipe in Sundays at Moosewood and found nothing of the sort. My excellent brain had manufactured the entire anecdote, but thus was born the phrase . . . “butt panini.” Maybe this illuminates why we are well-suited to parent boys.
But wait! I just found this in the venerable NY Times. I am vindicated!
Whether or not you sit on the leftovers, here’s our method for Salade Nicoise. This version of the classic French summer dish comes from my hybridization of recipes from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant(The Moosewood Collective, Simon & Schuster, 1990) and The Way to Cook (Julia Child, Knopf, 2011):
First, prepare a lovely vinaigrette. Combine in a jar and shake vigorously to combine:
1/4 cup vinegar (cider, wine or herbed; or use fresh-squeezed lemon juice)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill, parsley or basil
1 pint new potatoes, cut into large bite-size pieces
1 1/2 pounds green beans (or a mix of yellow and green), trimmed
3-4 tomatoes, cut into small wedges
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Nicoise-type olives
Sprigs of dill, parsley or basil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the potatoes until tender (sometimes I successfully hard-boil the eggs at the same time – but use your favorite hard-boiling technique). When tender, remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon. Once the potatoes have drained, toss them gently with some of the vinaigrette.
When the water returns to a boil, blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, and then refresh them under cold water.
Take a few moments to compose the salad: line a roomy platter or large salad bowl with lettuce leaves. Toss the beans with some of the vinaigrette. Place the dressed potatoes in the center of the platter or bowl; mound beans at strategic intervals, interspersing them with tomatoes and mounds of tuna. Ring the salad with the eggs. Spoon the vinaigrette over all; scatter on the olives, capers and herbs. Serve as soon as possible, at room temperature.
Wishing you a magical summer picnic at the beach, or a sunset dinner at home. For all of us at Simple Gifts Farm – Audrey