WICHE: How to preserve your harvest for later

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By Jeneen Wiche

I have perfected my preservation techniques when it comes to a bumper crop of some of our favorite garden vegetables.  Some simple recipes allow us to freeze or can that which we can not manage to eat or give away while fresh.  Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Sofregit: This is a staple in many Spanish cooking recipes, and it has become my favorite way to preserve bushels of tomatoes from the garden.  It is super easy and the flavors are so concentrated you would swear that someone put sugar in it.  All you need are onions, tomatoes, a little olive oil and some slow cooking time in a pot.  Heat your pot and add some olive oil to cover the bottom. Sauté onions until translucent and dump in your peeled (I do not always peel them!) and chopped tomatoes.  Cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for several hours until the consistency is just short of a paste. You can freeze sofregit in containers or can it in a hot water bath as you would tomatoes.  You can also add a little of your favorite aromatic herb although the straight version is my favorite.  Use later with pasta, shrimp or just good homemade bread. 

Pesto:        You can make pesto out of any herb.  This year I made a batch out of garlic scapes, but that traditional pest involves leafy herbs like basil and cilantro (but do not limit yourself with just these).  For a classic pesto combine 2 cups fresh basil, 4 garlic cloves, 1 cup pine nuts, 1 cup olive oil, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, ¼ cup grated Romano cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.  Use a food processor to combine the ingredients adding the oil slowly as you process.  Add the cheese and salt and pepper at the end, pulsing several times to complete the mixture.  Pesto can be frozen in ice trays first and then packaged as single servings for later.  Its best use is on pasta but certainly be creative, otherwise.

Zucchini bread: This is probably the best way to get kids to eat zucchini!  There are many recipes for zucchini bread, and my sister and I have settled on this one as our favorite.  Grease and flour two loaf pans and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In one bowl mix three eggs, 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of vegetable oil.  In another bowl, mix 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, ½ tsp. backing powder. Add 2 cups shredded zucchini and ½ chopped nuts to the dry mixture, mix.  Then add the wet mixture.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. 

Herbes de Provence: Thyme, rosemary, lavender and summer savory make up the seasoning for many French Provencal dishes and once you have tasted the combination you get addicted.  It is a fabulous herb accompaniment to roasted zucchini in its fresh state, but you can also dry the herbs for winter cooking.  Herbs are best harvested for drying just as the flowers form but before the buds actually open. Their essential oils are at their peak so the herbs’ distinctive flavor will be, as well.  Harvest bunches of thyme, rosemary, lavender and summer savory; hang them upside down in a well ventilated location.  After about two weeks they should be ready to process into airtight jars (be sure they are completely dry, or mold may form in the jars).  Take a sheet of newspaper and roll the herb mixture in the paper to remove the leaves from the stems, pick out the stems and funnel into the jar.  Voila, herbes de Provence for later.       

All of our garden vegetables can be frozen, but you first need to blanch then in a hot water bath for about 2 minutes to stop enzyme production in the vegetable.  Two minutes in an ice bath after blanching will quickly cool the vegetable so it doesn’t get over cooked.  Let it then drain and dry before packaging in freezer bags or containers.  Frozen vegetables are great for winter soups and stews.