In the shortest days of winter, I crave the freshest produce. Forget sweets or chips—I yearn for cherry tomatoes, raspberries, and other garden goodies. I suppose the desire for sun-kissed fruit and veg as the snow falls is the main reason this blog exists: Every summer, I play with new and better ways to preserve homegrown produce that we can eat year-round. This blog is all about sharing those ideas with you.
I use “cherry” to describe many tiny tomatoes: Sweet 100s, Sun Golds, Black Cherry, my favorite Yellow Pear. We go big, growing a mix of cultivars to eat like candy off the vine and turn into a pasta sauce easily recreated from frozen toms in the coldest months. These bite-sized bursts of flavor are so simple to save for winter, you’ll wonder why you’ve never done so.
Frozen Cherry Tomatoes
Pull any remaining stems from the cherry tomatoes, watching for any damaged fruits as you go. If any of them were resting or fell on dirt during the harvest, place them in a colander, gently wash them in cool water, and let them drain well. Freeze the whole cherry tomatoes into a resealable zip-close freezer bag, making sure you don’t pack the bag so full that you pop the tomatoes. Makes about 1 quart bag.
Tips & Tricks
- Cherry tomato skins are so thick that they hold their shape well when frozen, but will become soft and deflated when defrosted. You can eat them nearly frozen, or you can use them when cooking.
- You would think a quart freezer bag would only hold as many tomatoes as a 4-cup measuring glass, but I manage to cram far more in. It’s kind of like the difference between packing a hard-sided suitcase and overpacking a soft-sided one—as long as you can seal it shut and the airline staff doesn’t look to closely, you’re good to go.
- With cherry tomatoes, I don’t worry about freezing usable portions. Because the produce is frozen whole, raw, and dry, it’s easy to open a bag, take out the amount you need, and reseal. Just be sure to return the bag to the freezer immediately; the few seconds it takes to do this won’t affect the rest of the bag.
- Depending on the recipe, I handle frozen tomatoes in different ways: For French Dressing with Potato Salad, I defrost the tomatoes in a bowl and use the liquid and solids. For hot & sour soup, I simply add them frozen to the stock when I heat it. And for Pasta That Pops (see below), I pour them into the pan and let them, well, pop!
- Larger tomatoes can be frozen in the same manner, but at some point they’re too big fit well into freezer bags. For these tomatoes, chop them coarsely or slice them 1/2-inch thick, and then freeze them on a tray.
Twice as Tasty
I love kitchen time, but even I have nights when it’s simply about getting dinner on the table. Many people buy boxes of mac and cheese or frozen pizza for those quick dinners, but there are so many more options. With a little foresight, you can have a homemade meal in the time it takes to make these commercially packaged meals.
Consider cherry tomatoes. At the peak of their season, when they’re so plentiful you’re considering giving them away, you instead spend a few minutes packing the extras into freezer bags. Then, in November, when you’ve had a long day and need a quick meal, you open the freezer, pull out a bag, and dump the frozen contents into the pan. By the time you’ve poured yourself a glass of wine, boiled water, and cooked your favorite shape of pasta, you have an unbeatable sauce ready to serve.
Pasta That Pops
1 quart zip-close bag (about 6 cups) frozen cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning Blend
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon frozen chives, minced (optional)
Parmesan cheese, grated
Set a pot of water to boil for the pasta, cooking it according to package directions. Empty the bag of frozen cherry tomatoes into a large, heavy skillet and turn to medium heat. Let the tomatoes defrost for about 10 minutes, until they pop their skins and release most of their juices. Strain out the tomato solids, letting the juice drain into a bowl. Melt the butter in the empty skillet, and then add the garlic; cook, stirring, about 1 minute, until the garlic is lightly browned. Return the tomato juice to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until the juice is reduced to a thin layer of liquid in the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low; stir in the balsamic vinegar, tomato solids, herb blend, salt, and pepper. Once the sauce bubbles slightly, turn off the heat and add the chives. Serve over pasta, topping with cheese. Serves 2–3.
Tips & Tricks
- You can defrost the cherry tomatoes ahead of time and pierce them to let the juices flow, but the heat seems to do a better job in less time.
- My Italian Seasoning Blend works beautifully in this dish, or you can simply add individual dried herbs to taste.
- This recipe features frozen cherry tomatoes, but it can also be made in season. Fresh tomatoes will pop in less time, so it’s best to drop the pasta into the water first. You can use up to three times as many fresh herbs as dried.