Summer’s Last Licks

Feeling a little conflicted about the summer ending? So am I. On the one hand I’m relishing a normal routine (the kids are back in school), but on the other I’m already lamenting the end of summer’s bounty and quick meals. Refusing to let go entirely, I’ve found a few easy ways to cling to summer throughout the fall and winter. Corn stripped from the cob, eggplant sliced and grilled for making parmigiana, halved and pitted plums, and tomato paste and sauce are safely nestled in our chest freezer. Let’s just pray we don’t have another extended power failure.

The next time you see a heap of sauce tomatoes (San Marzanos, Romas, etc.), Italian eggplant, corn or summer stone fruit at a farmers’ market or farm stand, buy it up and prepare it for freezing. The bulk preparation now will save you time on dark, cold nights when you’d rather be sitting in front of the fireplace. Here are some of my suggestions for getting in summer’s last licks. What are yours?

Eggplant

sliced eggplant for grilling
Buy a lot of eggplant (at least 6-8) and grill them now to have eggplant parmigiana in the dead of winter.
grilled eggplant
Freeze in one large container or several smaller ones for use during the winter. Combine with homemade sauce for a true taste of summer.

Wash, dry, and trim the ends from white or black eggplant. Slice in  1/2 inch rounds, lay on a tray and brush with olive oil and dust with salt. Flip over and repeat on the other side. Grill on both sides until slightly softened and grill marks appear or bake at 450 F until golden. The eggplant will be baked again so they don’t need to be tender. Allow to cool then stack in a Pyrex or other large, flat storage container, and seal with a lid or plastic and foil. Refrigerate until well chilled, label, then transfer to a freezer, preferably a chest freezer set to zero degrees F. When ready to use, defrost overnight in the refrigerator (never at room temperature), then use just like fresh in eggplant parmigiana and other recipes calling for eggplant rounds. Be sure to defrost some of your homemade tomato sauce to use in the dish.

Tomatoes

For sauce: San Marzanos and other sauce tomatoes are still available in markets. If you don’t see any on display, ask the farmer for seconds. They’ll cost you less and you have to cut them up anyway!

Blister and cool the tomatoes, then pull the skins off before coring and chopping.

Peeling Method: Set a wide saucepan of water to boil, then plunge in the whole tomatoes for 30 seconds and scoop out with a spider or remove with tongs and set on a cutting board. These tomatoes will be very hot to the touch so let them cool before you attempt to core and peel them. If the skin doesn’t come off easily, give them a second hot bath. Some people like to score the underside of the tomato to take this guesswork out of the equation. Once cored and peeled, rough chop and reserve in a bowl with all the seeds and juices.

Occasionally pour off the tomato juices into a bowl to avoid a mess.

Cooking Method: Chop at least one cloves of garlic for each pound of tomatoes  and briefly sautee in olive oil, then add the tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, a pinch or two of salt and a pinch of red pepper. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until the tomatoes are broken down into a sauce-like consistency (anywhere from 20 minutes up depending upon how ripe and firm the tomatoes are). Let cool, scoop into in 2-4 cup Pyrex containers and refrigerate until well chilled. Label each container and store in a chest freezer.

Corn

Remove the kernels from the cob without trying to remove every last bit. Milk the cob instead to avoid the tough tip cap.

Shuck and rinse corn, removing any silk. Stand corn vertically on a cutting board or in a large bowl so it rests on its wider end. Expect errant kernels. If you’re uncomfortable with the entire cob, snap it in half. Using a chef’s knife or large, serrated knife,  strip the kernels from the cob, starting at the top and pushing straight down to the bottom, rotating the cob to overlap passes. It’s important not to try to push your knife into the cob to remove every last bit of corn kernel, because you’ll risk pulling out the kernel and the tough tip cap. Nobody wants to eat that. Instead, after you’re done removing the kernels, milk the cob by firmly passing the blunt side of your chef’s knife along the stripped cob to remove any tender pieces of kernel and juice. You’ll want to do this over a bowl or cutting board with a reservoir.

Milk to cobs with the blunt end of a chef's knife and save the stripped cobs for stock.

Store the pulp and juice separately from whole kernels so you can use them for making a broth for corn chowder. Portion the corn into Pyrex containers, refrigerate, label and then store in the deep freezer.  If you plan to make broth, pop the stripped cobs into a freezer bag and place them next to the corn kernel containers. Food & Wine recently published a simple Sweet Onion & Corn Soup recipe using the stripped cobs to build the broth (no chicken or vegetable stock). Add your “milked” corn to the simmering cobs for even more flavor. Side dish uses for the corn: corn bread, roasted in a cast iron skillet, simply steamed and buttered, creamed corn.

Fruit

Halve, pit, and slice summer fruit for a real winter's treat on ice cream, in yogurt, in oatmeal, or on waffles and pancakes.

Wash, dry, halve and pit peaches, nectarines, and plums. Lay flat on a baking pan and place in the chest freezer until frozen. Remove from tray and store in Pyrex containers or freezer bags, label, and return to the chest freezer. Defrost and use in baking recipes or poach for serving with oatmeal and desserts. If you prefer, the fruit can also be sliced and frozen, then stored.

One final suggestion, make an inventory list of everything you’ve put in your freezer and scratch items off as you use them. This way you’ll know exactly what you have on hand.

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