Overwhelmed by Zucchini? Here’s How to Freeze It

by Elizabeth Skipper | July 23rd, 2014 | Ask the Chef

zucchini-176880_640Zucchini season has begun.  Is there any way to freeze it for use in the winter? I know that I can pickle it, but I would prefer to have plain zucchini, which I can use in an assortment of dishes.

It’s that time of year, when if your squash plants haven’t been attacked by bugs, they’re starting to produce in such quantities you’ll soon be over-run. One to three plants are sufficient for most families, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that and so we over-plant. Even if we don’t, the kitchen counter starts to get buried, the neighbors are shaking their heads, and we’re wondering how to use all this bounty. Freezing some for later makes sense.

There are a few rules which apply to conserving or freezing produce in general. First, select young, ripe but not overly-ripe, specimens. What you get out of the freezer is only as good as what goes in. Since most produce suffers some from freezing, you need to start with an excellent product to get the best results. Zucchini should be blemish-free and the seeds should be immature, so pass on those over-grown club-sized ones. Use those up in zucchini bread or muffins. Or compost them or feed them to the chickens.

The squash should be nice and firm, so pick it just before you’re ready to process it. If it’s already been picked and you can’t get to it right away, be sure it’s been refrigerated. Wash it carefully and remove the stems and blossom ends. Cut it into chunks or slice it into slices at least ½” thick. Work quickly, and prepare only one batch at a time.

Then it needs to be blanched to deactivate enzymes and bacteria which will cause deterioration in the freezer. Have a large pot of water on the boil (unlike when cooking squash, do NOT salt the water), and a large bowl or pot of ice water handy, preferably in the sink. You can use a skimmer to remove the blanched zucchini from the boiling water, although if you have something like a deep fryer basket, that’s even better.

When the water is boiling, add the sliced zucchini (in the basket if you have one), and bring the water back to the boil. Start timing when the zucchini goes into the water, not from when the water returns to the boil. The goal isn’t to cook the zucchini, so blanching should take no more than three minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.

You can also treat coarsely grated zucchini the same way, except it should be steamed over boiling water rather than boiled. Allow no more than two minutes for blanching; and rather than follow the next step, put the zucchini directly into containers and chill the containers. Grated squash will be water-logged if you cool it directly in water.

Remove from the pot, allow to drain, and plunge into the ice water. Allow to cool completely. Then drain thoroughly, and spread out to dry on toweling. For best results, lay the blanched zucchini out on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. When the zucchini is frozen, transfer to freezer bags or plastic containers for storage. Remove as much air as possible from bags; leave an inch of headspace if using containers.

If you have a vacuum sealer, this is a great time to use it because it will remove more air than you can otherwise; and air is the great enemy of frozen goods. So is the constant slight thawing and refreezing which occurs in self-defrosting freezers, which is what most of us have these days, so don’t plan on keeping your frozen zucchini for too long – no more than a few months. If you have a chest freezer which isn’t self-defrosting, it will keep longer; but try to use it all up within nine months for best results.

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