In my last post, I shared with you the wonderful nutrition found in broccoli rabe. It’s one of my favorite vegetables and it is very easy to grow here in zone 7.
Like many spring vegetables, broccoli rabe is at its peak in early to mid-spring. When the warm weather arrives, it begins to flower and loses its flavor. It is best enjoyed fresh but if you cannot eat it all when it is ready in the garden you can preserve it by freezing. Here’s how to freeze broccoli rabe.
Freezing Broccoli Rabe
At first, you might think this is a silly post. After all, don’t you just put the vegetables in the freezer? Not quite. You need to use a process called blanching to halt enzyme activity
Not quite. You need to use a process called blanching to halt enzyme activity in the living tissues of the plant. By halting this activity, you will help your frozen broccoli rabe taste better and last longer in the freezer.
Blanching is easy to do but can be time-consuming if you are processing a lot of broccoli rabe. It took us about three hours and two people, my husband working alongside me, to pull up the rabe in this garden bed, cut off the root portion and any inedible leaves, chop, blanch, drain, and freeze all of it.
Blanching vegetables means quickly immersing them in rapidly boiling water for a designated time period, them dunking them in ice water to halt the cooking process. Once drained, vegetables are packed into labeled freezer-safe bags and placed into our big pantry freezer for long-term storage.
To freeze broccoli rabe, first cut off the roots. Rinse the remaining plant, stems, and leaves off. Pick off any yellowed, wilted, or imperfect leaves.
Check the underside of the leaves for insect eggs. I found many clusters of white and gray eggs I could not identify on the rabe. I simply discarded these leaves.
Next, bring your rabe into the kitchen. Chop the rabe and discard thick stems into the compost pile.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set it aside. Put a large pot filled halfway with water on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil. Have a colander handy for draining the vegetables.
When the water is boiling, carefully add the chopped, cleaned broccoli rabe, using a spoon to stir and push it down. Time this carefully; boil it for just two minutes. At the end of two minutes, immediately remove the pot from the stove. Drain carefully (don’t burn yourself) in the colander placed in the sink. Then place the vegetables into the ice water.
I dunk the entire colander into a large, flat steel chef’s bowl filled with ice water. I submerge it for 30 seconds then lift the colander out to drain the water in the sink. I use my hands to gently press water from the broccoli rabe. Then I place the rabe into the prepared plastic freezer bag. Once it is inside the bag, I tip the bag, open-end into the sink, and press it one last time to remove excess moisture. Then I try to push out as much air as possible from the bag and slide the zipper-top into place. The entire bag is then put immediately into the freezer.
You can use frozen broccoli rabe like spinach or other leafy green vegetables. It keeps in the freezer for up to six months, a little longer if you are lucky.
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Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.