What can I batch cook now and freeze to brighten my autumn/winter mealtimes?
Steph, Stroud, Gloucestershire
“Summer is really about fruit and veg, that’s what’s exciting at this time of year,” says Oli Brown, chef-owner of Updown, a restaurant with rooms on a former farm near Deal in Kent. And the excitement can continue into the winter dearth if you stew (then freeze) those courgettes, tomatoes and aubergines now. “You could make a big batch of caponata, for example,” Brown suggests. “That would freeze for months, then all you have to do is defrost it, heat through, and maybe add a little more vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs.” A good caponata hinges on “everything [that is, the veg] being cut roughly the same size, so it all cooks at the same time”, then frying the aubergine and courgette until golden. “I sometimes put in pears or figs, too,” he says. And remember, caponata should be jammy and intense; this isn’t ratatouille (although that, too, will keep happily in the freezer).
Minestrone with peas and broad beans would also brighten darker days – just add olive oil and lemon juice when reheating for extra oomph. Meanwhile, for Alissa Timoshkina, co-founder of Cook for Ukraine and author of Salt & Time, dill is a key ingredient to take into autumn/winter. “I just love it,” she says, and to feel that love all year round, she makes a garlic-dill oil by blitzing 50g dill, a big pinch of flaky sea salt, perhaps a small clove of garlic and 100g oil. “Use olive oil or, for a more eastern European flavour, a good-quality, unrefined organic sunflower oil and maybe a touch of lemon juice.” Freeze in ice-cube trays, then, in the colder months, just pop a few out and stir into soups and stews.
Don’t give summer fruits the cold shoulder, either. “Gooseberries, strawberries, figs and peaches make really nice compotes or purees,” says Brown, who stores them in the freezer ready to dollop on future porridge, fold through cream for dessert or, in the case of gooseberries, to serve as an alternative to apple sauce with a Sunday roast. “It’s a little taste of summer.”
Of course, it’s not only the freezer that can save summer – there are jams, pickles and ferments, too. When it comes to the latter, it’s got to be tomatoes, Timoshkina says: “They have an amazing flavour, and fermented stuff has so much goodness in it.” Roughly chop ripe tomatoes or blitz them to a chunky paste. “Add a tablespoon of salt per kilo [of tomatoes], then flavour with anything you like – a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of chilli, grated garlic, ginger, or horseradish …”
Seal in a sterilised jar and leave at room temperature and out of direct sunlight to ferment for 10 days. “Once it reaches the right fermentation level for your tastes, put the jar in the fridge and it’ll keep for the winter” – or at least until you’ve polished off the lot in soups and stews, or mixed them with mayo to spread on sandwiches. As Timoshkina puts it: “I’d happily add a tablespoon to pretty much whatever I make.”