Freezing leftovers is a great way to save money and prevent food waste, but knowing what can be frozen can be confusing. Can you freeze cooked rice? What about pasta? I hope to provide a few answers to some common questions. All leftovers should be heated to a minimum temperature of 165°F — so keep that in mind when reheating and remember that you shouldn’t keep stuff frozen for more than 3-4 months. Always remember not to put hot food in your freezer!
Rice and Pasta
Most cooked rice grains such as white rice, jasmine rice and even whole grain brown rice or combination mixes can be frozen. Bag them up in sealed freezer bags, (zip-lock ones are best, as they are robust and can be made airtight), squeeze the air out and write the contents and date on the outside. And yes, leftover pasta can be frozen too, with or without sauce, just remember let it cool first. Once in the bag, remove any air and freeze until ready to use. If using containers, leave enough room at the top for expansion, and cover the food itself with plastic wrap (this helps prevent freezer burn) before adding the lid.
One of the best things in your freezer could be bags of fresh veggies you have frozen. Whenever you find a good deal, buy more than you need, whether from the grocery shop or your local farmer’s market, or perhaps freeze the stuff you have grown yourself that you have a glut of, and you might not want right now. Eventually you will, so freeze it for later on. Lots are better if you blanch them first.
What is blanching?
To really get the most out of freezing fresh veggies, they need blanching first. This is a basic cooking technique that only takes a few minutes and is well worth the effort. Submerge the veggies into a pot of boiling water just for a few minutes, then dump into really cold - even icy - water, to stop the cooking process.
When cool, dry gently but thoroughly and spread on a baking sheet to ‘open freeze’, which will stop them freezing together in a lump, after which they can be bagged up. Blanching helps vegetables keep their vibrant colours and retains nutrients and stops the enzymes that would otherwise lead to spoilage.
Some veg work better than others using this technique - peas, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, beans and Brussel sprouts are some – and when it comes to leafy greens, like spinach, chard, and kale, the choice is yours. You don’t have to blanch them, though if you do the greens will cook down and won’t take up as much space.
And certain vegetables, like tomatoes, potatoes, and winter squash – even mushrooms - don’t need to be blanched before freezing. Whole tomatoes tend to crack and collapse when they thaw, so to successfully freeze raw tomatoes you can quarter them, toss with salt, pepper and olive oil, then roast them at a low temperature, between 250 - 300°F for 30 to 40 minutes. Let them cool, and then freeze them in two-cup portions - these are great for adding to soups or stews. Alternatively, slice tomatoes into at least 1/2-inch slices, arrange on a baking sheet and freeze for 2 hours. Remove slices and put them into freezer bags or containers.
Herbs can be frozen too – discard the stems and chop the leaves as you would use them fresh. Fill an ice cube tray half full of water, and add the herbs, maybe a tablespoonful in each space, and ‘drown’ the herbs as much as possible. Once frozen, top up the remaining space with water and freeze again, then bag them up - just remember to label the bag so you know which is which. These won’t look good for decorating as they will be too limp, but are great for soups and stews or other cooked dishes.
Remember - a veg a day is a healthy way. The treasure of a good life is hidden in vegetables, and frozen counts too!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.