SUMMER GREENS FOR WINTER MEALS? You bet. I’ve enjoyed creamed beet- and turnip-tops as a Thanksgiving side-dish, and this gorgeous Green Quiche for Christmas brunch. Kale (that’s the heirloom Red Russian variety above), has topped many plates of pasta here on snowy evenings. Of course, these fireside feasts are only possible because I preserve my greens at the peak of their perfection:
Any greens which are commonly cooked can be preserved through freezing. Besides Swiss chard (above) and others I’ve already mentioned, you can freeze collards, spinach, dandelion, and — if you can bear the taste (I can’t) — mustard greens. In the case of beet-greens, select only the youngest, most-tender leaves for freezing.
Some gardeners simply wash, pat dry, and then freeze their greens. This might work for the short-term. But for longer storage — 8 to 12 months, in fact — do what I do, and blanch them first. When you blanch, you submerge the greens briefly in boiling water, then promptly plunge them into ice water. Blanching destroys the enzymes which cause leaves to lose their green color. It also helps to preserve their taste.
According to The Joy of Cooking, the proper blanching time for all greens except collards is 2 1/2 minutes. Collard greens, which are not tender, require a 3-minute boil.
This freezing-technique has never failed me:
Trimming. Remove any tough stems from leaves. Kale has a particularly fibrous stem; if you wish to keep it, first chop it into one-inch pieces. Then blanch it, separately from the tender leaves, for 3 minutes. Personally, I don’t bother to keep tough stems.
Chopping and Cleaning. Roughly chop or tear the leaves, then swish them around in a bowl or sink of water to remove dirt.
Blanching. Dump the leaves into a big pot of boiling water; cover, and blanch for 2 1/2 minutes (again, 3 for collards). Timing begins the moment your greens touch the water.
Chilling. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to a big bowl of ice water, and let them sit for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Drain well.
Drying. Lay the leaves out on a baking sheet lined with either a cloth towel or several thicknesses of paper towels. Use another towel to blot tops of leaves. The goal here is to absorb excess water. Leaves needn’t be completely dry before you freeze them.
Vacuum-Sealing. Would you believe I still don’t own an electric vacuum-sealing device? Thus I express all air from the bag (this to avoid freezer burn) by sealing it partially, inserting a drinking straw, and sucking. Believe it or not, this little gimmick makes a respectable vacuum-seal.
And that’s it! Summer-grown greens — when properly blanched, sealed and frozen — can be enjoyed for 8-12 months.
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