Nutrition Corner: Freeze your farm fresh produce

June 25th, 2015 10:32 am

Nutrition Corner

Mary R. Ehret

Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve food when you can buy a large quantity for a good price. While freezing is simple to do, it does require following USDA recommendations to ensure a safe, high-quality frozen product. Below are suggestions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

First, freeze the best. If produce has bad spots or is molded, do not freeze. It is best to use vegetables at peak flavor and texture. Wash produce thoroughly in cold water and allow drying. Trim ends and cut into desired sized pieces.

Some vegetables require blanching before freezing. Blanching is another word for scalding in boiling water or steam for a short time. Blanching stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Enzymes are naturally found in fruits and vegetables. Blanching time is crucial and it varies with the vegetable and its size. Under-blanching stimulates the enzymes’ activity. It’s worse than not blanching at all. Over-blanching can cause the loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals.

Boiling is the most widely recommended way to blanch vegetables. Use a gallon of water per pound of vegetables. After washing, trimming and cutting, place the vegetables in a blanching basket and lower them into vigorously boiling water. Place a lid on the pot and start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. If you don’t have a blanching basket, just put them in the boiling water.

As soon as blanching is complete, cool the vegetables quickly to stop the cooking process. Fill a cleaned sink with cold water. Add a few ice cubes if available. Drain hot vegetables and drop immediately into a large quantity of cold water. Or, lower the blanching basket into cold water. Cool them for as long as you blanched them. Drain the vegetables and pack in freezer bags.

Here are the blanching times for vegetables:

• Beans: 4 minutes

• Broccoli: 1 1/2 inch pieces, 3 minutes

• Carrots: sliced, 2 minutes

• Cauliflower: small pieces, 3 minutes

• Corn on the cob: small ear, 7 minutes; medium ear, 9 minutes

• Whole kernel corn, 4 minutes

• Onions and peppers do not require blanching. Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spaghetti squash and tomatoes should be cooked before freezing.

Label all foods with the name of the food and date. Most fruits and vegetables will remain high in quality for 8 to 12 months. Longer storage won’t make the food unsafe to eat, but may harm its quality.

Broccoli chicken cheese casserole

Broccoli is now in season. Enjoy broccoli in this casserole.

It’s a great casserole to make using leftover chicken. Plan to serve this meal two days after serving chicken. Make extra chicken to use as a “planned over.”

5 cups water

2 1/2 cups rice

1/4 cup onion (chopped)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 clove garlic

1 cup milk*

1 can cream of mushroom soup*

2 cups chicken shredded (cooked)

2 cups broccoli pieces

3/4 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese (grated)

Preheat oven to 350° F. In large saucepan, bring water to boil. Add rice, onion and garlic. Cook for about 20 minutes or until rice is soft. While rice is cooking, combine milk, soup and pepper. Mix well. When rice is done, combine with milk mixture, chicken and broccoli; mix well. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonfat cooking spray and pour mixture into pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 18 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for another 6 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately. Makes 12 1-cup servings.

Per 1 cup serving: Total calories 239, Total fat 4 g, Protein 14 g, Carbohydrates 37 g, Dietary fiber, 2 g, Saturated fat 1 g, Sodium 395 mg.

* To reduce the sodium, substitute the milk and soup with a homemade white sauce. It’s easy — here is the recipe: Use this easy white sauce whenever a recipe calls for a can of creamy soup, such as mushroom.

Easy white sauce

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup nonfat milk

In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add the flour. Add the milk gradually. Heat to boiling and stir constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat.

Yield: 8 Servings, serving size 1 ounce

1 serving: Calories 40, Fat 3g, Carbohydrate 3g, Protein 1g, Sodium 10mg, Fiber 0g, Calcium 3 percent

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at