VEGETABLES

As a rule, most vegetables should be blanched before freezing; however, fine herbs, sweet peppers, pumpkin and squash are exceptions to the rule.

Blanch vegetables first: although most produce can be frozen immediately, blanching is the best way to stop oxidization. Peel, rinse and cut up first, then plonge into boiling water briefly; remove from the water as soon as it comes to a boil again. Cool the vegetables on the counter; then package and freeze [or drain the vegetables completely, spread them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them before packing them]. Never freeze something hot or lukewarm, ice crystals will form inside cells and break them down.

When cooking vegetables that grow above ground, the rule is to boil them uncovered. A lump of sugar added to the water when cooking greens helps vegetables retain their fresh colour. Never add baking soda to vegetables to keep their colour, since a lot of its nutrients will be lost. Never soak vegetables after slicing; they will lose much of their nutritional value. Perk up soggy lettuce by soaking in a mixture of lemon juice and cold water. Keep bean sprouts and jicama fresh and crisp up to five days by submerging them in a container of water, then refrigerating them.

Cook up a storm: make a big batch of vegetable soup, puree or juice and freeze, thus preserving their goodness for the weeks and months ahead.

For tastier vegetables, boil your vegetables in chicken broth or consomme...and forget about the butter.

Freeze only the freshest vegetables.

Frozen germs burst into activity when defrosted, so make sure your hands, utensils and work surfaces are uncontaminated.

Keep them cool: the usual freezer temperature of -4°F [-18°C] is not really enough. The water content in the vegetables must be deep frozen quickly to keep cells from breaking down. For best results, set the freezer at -13°F [-25°C], -22°F [-30°C] being even better.

Label packages carefully: no more mysterious packages! Label everything with the contents and date. Well chosen, wrapped and frozen, vegetables will last for about 6 months.

Only garden-fresh vegetables, ripe or almost ripe green vegetables, should be frozen...choose the best specimens!

Roasting tips:

a - For added flavor, marinate vegetables briefly or lightly baste vegetables with balsamic vinegar or soy sauce before roasting; season with freshly ground black pepper and dried or fresh herbs.

b - Vegetables can be roasted without any oil; arrange them on heavy baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

c - If using oil, use olive oil as it flavors the vegetables too - a misting bottle is handy to give vegetables a light oil coating.

d - Roast vegetables in a hot oven, preheated to 400°F - 425°F [200°C - 220°C].

e - The smaller the vegetable and size of pieces, the faster they will roast [Ex: green beans and asparagus roast in about 20 minutes, while root vegetables such as whole carrots and parsnips can take up to 50 to 60 minutes.

f - Roasted vegetables are very versatile: use as a side dish, as pasta or pizza topping, in salad with a dressing, puree vegetables and mix into a soup with chicken stock or use as a sandwich spread with hummus.

g - Roasted garlic is great to add flavor and body to a low-fat dressing or spread.

h - Cut 1/4 inch [6 mm] off the top of a head of garlic; place head, cut side down, on a baking sheet with other vegetables - roast for 40 to 45 minutes; if garlic starts to brown, turn over and cover with foil.

i - To remove garlic, turn the head upside down and gently squeeze the cloves out of the skins.

j - Do several heads of garlic at a time.

k - Roasted garlic keeps well, covered and refrigerated, for several weeks.

Select only the very freshest, unbruised vegetables; freezing will preserve their goodness, not restore it.

Small well filled containers = minimum contact with air.

The less air that comes in contact with the food, the longer it will last.

Whenever possible, remove air with a straw before sealing; the less air, the better the fruits will keep.

Wrap well before freezing: package vegetables in small, usable quantities. Fill containers [leaving a little head space for expansion], remove as much air as possible [try using a straw] and seal carefully.