Frozen veggies: Simple, versatile, available all year

Record-Eagle/Jan-Michael StumpRecord-Eagle food columnist Abra Berens.

Out of parsnips.

Out of potatoes. Still plenty of garlic.

Arugula died in the polar vortex. Spinach still going strong.

No more squash. Still some shallots.

What’s in the freezer?

At the end of August through the middle of October, I finally have time to put energy toward preserving food. Always feeling a little guilty that, yet again, I missed cucumbers and green beans, I redirect that energy toward not wasting a single tomato, pepper, eggplant or kernel of corn. While I’m processing all that food — cutting the corn from the cobs, spreading it out on baking sheets to freeze, then scooping it up and into zipper bags — I wonder, will I even use this?

Chest freezers are a blessing and a curse. They hold a magnificent amount of food with remarkable efficiency of energy and floor space consumption. They also are almost impossible to organize and maintain said system when one must empty half the contents onto the basement floor just to find that quart of roasted tomatoes that one is extremely confident is in there somewhere.

My perennial favorites are frozen corn and frozen peas. I love them for their utility and their ubiquity. There is nothing fancy about them. You don’t need a recipe to freeze them, just buy them at their best, spread them out to freeze individually, and then bag ‘em and tag ‘em. You don’t even need to be the one to freeze them. Every grocery store has them, and the store-bought ones were also frozen at the height of their season, whenever and wherever that was, because that is when these vegetables are most abundant and therefore the tastiest and the cheapest. Please note, Oryana has a great selection of vegetables in their freezer section that were grown and processed in this area, and I recommend the local option, especially in freezer season.

The fact that they are plain in their preservation means that these simple veggies are ready to be worked into any number of dishes. In the winter, I do get a bit bored and play around with flavors from elsewhere — coconut, shrimp, pineapple. I also tire of these play things and gravitate back to the flavors I know. Dishes that celebrate the stew-y comfort of the dead of winter benefit from a little reminder that warm days are not far off. Remember peas and corn? I found a bag of summer in the bottom of the deep freeze.

Chicken Vesuvio

Chicken Vesuvio is not Italian. It was invented in Chicago for Italian restaurants. Despite its inauthentic origins, it is rich and delicious and the perfect meal to get bridge the winter nights and the desire for spring days. The only thing to note is that it will still be brothy when the chicken and potatoes are cooked. Serve that broth along with the chicken; I suggest a shallow bowl.

4-6 chicken thighs

1 onion, sliced thinly

4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

½ c. white wine or hard cider

2 lbs. potatoes, I like fingerling or boiling varieties cut into 1” chunks

1 ½ c. chicken stock

8 oz. frozen peas (or fresh when available)

10 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped

2-4 T. butter (optional but really nice)

Heat oven to 400 F. Pat the chicken thighs dry and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan heat a glug of neutral oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown. Remove to a plate, leaving the underside uncooked. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the onion, garlic, a big pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper and sweat until soft. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan (scraping up the brown bits) and reduce until almost dry. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Replace the chicken, skin side up, and place in the oven until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through (about 25 minutes). Pull the frying pan from the oven and lift the chicken from the pan and transfer to serving bowls. Add the peas, parsley and butter to the broth and stir until the peas are bright green and the butter melted. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Ladle the broth into the serving bowls around the chicken and serve. 

Pan-Roasted Shrimp with Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Corn, Lime and Garlic

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, cut into chunks

½ t. chili flakes (optional)

10 oz. frozen sweet corn

1-2 lbs. shrimp, depending on how much you want to eat

6 cloves garlic, minced

¼ c. neutral oil

1 c. coconut milk

3 limes, zest and juice

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 400 F. Toss the sweet potatoes with neutral oil, 2 pinches of salt and chili flakes and spread on a baking sheet. Roast until the potatoes are halfway tender (about 20 minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Toss the corn with a glug of neutral oil and pinch of salt and spread over the sweet potatoes baking sheet and return to the oven. Roast corn and potatoes until the potatoes are cooked through and the corn is starting to caramelize (about 20 minutes). In a large frying pan, heat a large glug of neutral oil over high heat until just about smoking. Add the shrimp and pan fry until they are bright pink, flip the shrimp and cook the other side. Remove the shrimp to a plate, cover with tin foil to hold. In the frying pan, reduce the heat to low, add the ¼ cup neutral oil, garlic, and 2 pinches of salt. Allow the garlic to cook in the oil until just starting to brown. Add the coconut milk and lime zest and juice. Bring to a boil then add the shrimp back to the pan and stir to combine. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a serving platter or individual bowls. Ladle the shrimp coconut mixture over the roasted veggies. Garnish with big handfuls of the chopped cilantro and serve.