Save the bounty!

Freeze, dry, quick-pickle, infuse and preserve sweet summer produce

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Susan France

I can tell you are drowning in fresh, local produce of summer — the lettuces, peaches, etc. — and taking it for granted. You are in denial. 

Not to be a Johnny Downer, but this cornucopia of abbondanza is not long for the world. You don’t want to admit that the watermelon, like summer, is not endless.

Besides, fresh corn is now always available in early December in Boulder supermarkets. 

But I don’t really want to taste that sweet corn during the short, dark, shuddering days of December. I want the specific intense corniness of a buttered and peppered Olathe sweet corn cob in August, only days after it’s picked. 

The same goes for Cherokee Purple tomatoes, grilled Jimmy Nardello chilies, Rocky Ford Persian melon and the myriad vegetables and fruits pouring out of local farms. Buy it while it’s fresh, local and affordable — especially if you ask for “seconds” or smaller, misshapen and bruised produce.  

If you want to “hold summer in your hand,” as Ray Bradbury wrote in Dandelion Wine, or at least taste it, you’re going to have to spend some quality time in the kitchen. I only mention this because you don’t want to be sorry you didn’t find time to make and enjoy basil pesto, peach-infused vodka, herbed breadcrumbs, pickled beets, roasted garlic oil and local ratatouille long after the farmers markets close until spring.  

I asked Kate Lacroix about her favorite produce preservation habits. Lacroix owns Stocked, a Boulder-based pantry-building service that helps folks save money on groceries. 

Dry Herb Couscous Crumble: “I love to dry my herbs (basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, parsley) in the sun on my window sill where I know they will dry well, but not blow away. I make breadcrumbs and couscous crumble for salads (and anything that needs a crunch). It’s just breadcrumbs, dried herbs, salt and pepper and couscous — par-cooked, then dried in the oven on a baking sheet — and mixed with herbs, salt and pepper. I put both in big Ball jars to use throughout the fall and winter.”

Smoothie-Ready Greens: “I blanch and freeze kale and chard and put them in the freezer for boosted smoothies. I stack the leaves whole between sheets of parchment in a sealed bag and then peel them off as I need them.”

Bellini Peaches: “I puree ripe peaches and put them into small-serving freezer pouches for brunch-time bellinis.”

Winter squash, potatoes, onions and garlic are easy to store whole in a cool, dry place but canning, fermenting and smoking require a certain amount of expertise and equipment. Here are some of my favorite simpler ways to preserve summer. 

Watching Ratatouille: Roast tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini chunks, whole peeled garlic cloves and onions in an open oven pan at 325 degrees for an hour or so. Add herbs and chilies, if desired. Cool and portion in small freezer bags and add to cooked pasta.  

Freeze Frame: Freeze loose slices of peach to not end up with a brick o’ peach. Use a thin metal tray for chopped herbs, berries and slices of fruit including melons. Store in a freezer bag. Vegetables like beets, bok choy, carrots, fennel and green beans need to be trimmed, cut in pieces and poached in salted boiling water for two minutes, then chilled in ice cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and freeze loose. Sweet corn can be blanched and frozen as cobettes or cut kernels. Roasted chilies can be peeled, deseeded and frozen on sheets. 

Pesto Variations: One of the best ways to preserve the aroma and flavor of herbs is to make pesto or freeze them in olive oil cubes. To make pesto, place a half cup of pine nuts (or sunflower seeds or walnuts), three-quarters of a cup finely grated Parmesan (or other hard cheese), three large peeled garlic cloves minced, one cup extra virgin olive oil, and one and a half teaspoons salt in a food processor. Add six cups basil leaves at the last minute. Try with fresh cilantro, broadleaf Italian parsley, beet greens, arugula and watercress. 

You can also purée the same herbs and greens with olive oil or butter and freeze into cubes to keep for sautéing veggies and meats.  

Poetic Beet Vinegar: Blanche thin slices of peeled beets, place them in a jar, fill with red wine vinegar and keep in the fridge as a salad topper and for dressings. 

Roasted Garlic Oil: Stellar garlic is grown on farms in the Boulder area. Buy bunches of it, peel a mess of garlic cloves and roast them with a little bit of oil until soft. Fill a jar and pour olive oil over them. Great for garlic bread. 

Infused Booze: Place a cup of mint, basil or other herbs in a jar, add two cups of local vodka (or rum or tequila), cover and infuse in the fridge for three days. Taste and strain out the herbs. Half-fill a jar with peach slices, add herb-infused vodka and strain for a digestif. 

Roast those Plums: Roast whole, under-ripe backyard plums, apricots or peaches — rinsed and trimmed — on cookie sheets at 275 degrees for about two hours until the fruit is soft. The pits are then easy to pull out. Puree the fruit and a) roast it another hour to get compote; or, b) freeze in cubes to use later in muffins and to cook pork. 

Local Food News

Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant in Boulder has moved to 1710 Pearl St. … … One of Colorado’s top annual pie contests is Louisville’s Fall Festival pie contest Labor Day at Memory Square Park. Judges include yours truly. The contest is limited to only 60 entries in three categories — Cream, Apple, Fruit and/or Nuts — plus the resume-boosting Overall Pie Master. Stop by for a slice of pie.  

Taste of the Week

Look for light-green-striped Romanesco zucchini at farmers markets. It’s firmer, less spongy, less seedy and tastier when simmered and grilled and so superior I’d happily never buy regular zucchini again. 

Words to Chew On

“The season is short and the perfect peach is often elusive, so I make sure to take advantage of any opportunity I can find, buying cases of Colorado peaches when they hit markets in the Midwest.” —Andrew Zimmern.    

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.