Store Peak Tomatoes & Herbs for Year ‘Round Good Eating
During these waning days of summer, I’m being a bit greedy, trying to get my fill of the fresh flavors of locally grown fruit and vegetables. Fresh is good—but forward thinking folks go a step further and “put up” some of these goodies. Tomatoes are one of the best choices to preserve—you can’t enjoy a fresh slice on a sandwich, but in sauce, pizza, soup, chili or nachos the ones you’ve preserved will punch up the flavor a lot more than off-season options from the supermarket.
The easiest way to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them. Choose tomatoes that are firm, free of blemishes, and hefty—juicier tomatoes are more dense. Good tomatoes should also have a fragrant, sweet somewhat earthy scent. Once you’ve selected the fruit, place them briefly in boiling water—just until the skins begin to split. From the boiling water, plunge them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking action. After these two baths, the tomatoes practically peel themselves. Cut them into chunks and spoon them into freezer-safe containers. If you’ve selected different varieties of tomatoes, label the chopped tomatoes with the date and the variety in each container.
Tomatoes are good sources of lycopene, an antioxidant which can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. When tomatoes are cooked, the lycopene increases, making the cooked fruit a more significant source of the antioxidant. Tomatoes also contain other antioxidants, such as beta-carotene that help fight cell damage. They also contain vitamin C, iron, potassium and vitamin A, which helps maintain eye health.
Now that the tomatoes are prepped and on ice you’ll need to preserve some herbs to enhance the flavor of tomato seasoned dishes of the future. Basil, oregano, rosemary, and parsley are easy to grow and are abundant at local farmers markets. Typical pairings of the herbs include basil and oregano with tomatoes; rosemary with lemon and lamb; and parsley pairs well with just about everything. Flat-leaf or Italian parsley is more flavorful than the curly variety; however both will punch up the taste and appearance of recipes.
You can preserve herbs by freezing or drying them. In both cases rinse the herbs quickly in lukewarm water; shake off any excess water and gently pat them dry. If you choose to freeze, coarsely chop the herbs and place the herbs in water-filled ice cube trays and freeze. You may also spread the cleaned herbs on a cookie sheet or flat pan to freeze. Once they are frozen, store them in freezer-safe plastic bags. If you’d like to make your own dried herbs, after the rinse step, spread them in a single layer on paper towels or clean dish towels until all the moisture has evaporated. Remove any damaged leaves. Tie the stems together into small bundles and hang them upside down in a dry airy area out of the sun. The attic, closet or an empty cabinet are good places to hang them to dry.
Herbs are good sources of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Each of these herbs contains iron; parsley and basil also contain vitamin K.
With a little pre-planning and an afternoon “putting a few things up,” you’ll have richly flavored tomatoes and your own herbs at your fingertips year ‘round.
Take Away: Invest a little time preserving some of your favorite foods during their peak season. You’ll find these goodies a comforting simple pleasure increasing your well-being when they’re not in season.