Have you ever bought a fresh ginger root, used half an inch, and ended up throwing out the rest? Or bought a lemon only for the zest?
Do you find that the bunch of parsley you buy in the store is way more than you could use before it wilts?
Items like these I call precious ingredients. They’re precious because they add an important lift to your cooking. But precious also means “small.” You only need a small amount of these ingredients, usually much less than what you get in the minimum-size store packaging.
You can save the remainders of precious items from the trash by storing them in the freezer. And in all cases, you’ll do just a little work to process them upfront, and save yourself precious minutes of prep time when you take them out to use them later.
Here they are:
1. Tomato paste
In some regions, you can buy tomato paste in a squeezable tube. But if you must buy it in a can, you may end up using only a tablespoon in that pasta sauce or casserole. To save what’s left, spoon it out into mounds on a parchment paper or freezer paper set on a plate. Freeze the mounds until solid, then place them in a freezer bag.
Now you’ll have a tablespoon of tomato paste whenever you need it. This also works for canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce.
Unless you’re making tabbouleh, you usually don’t need more than a quarter cup of fresh parsley. Swish the remainder of the bunch in warm water (I believe warm water gets the dirt and bugs off easier) and pat it dry. Chop it up and pack it into ice cube trays. Then top up the trays with water and put it in the freezer. Pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag.
A cube or two of frozen chopped parsley added to a soup or a stew near the end of cooking adds fresh colour and nutrition. And you’ve saved yourself the washing and chopping time.
3. Lemon juice
Where I live, a lemon can cost a dollar or more most of the year, so it’s really precious to me. Freeze the juice of half a lemon each into small containers or in ice cube trays.
4. Tomatoes and Berries
A surplus of tomatoes and berries can be a mixed blessing—a treat for a while, and then hard to use up. Delicate fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and blue berries should be rinsed first. Spread them out on trays in the freezer and then put them into bags. A bag of cranberries can be tossed into the freezer just the way it is. Use the frozen berries as a replacement for fresh in baking or in a sauce.
A tomato, which is biologically a berry, can also be frozen whole. Add flavour, colour, and nutrition to a soup by tossing in a whole frozen tomato. It will burst and break down nicely as the soup cooks.
5. Parmesan cheese rind
You can only grate a parmesan cheese so far and then it becomes impossible. Save the rind in the freezer and add a piece to a homemade soup for umami flavour. Remove it before serving.
You can do this with any badly-wrapped cheese that has dried out. Make sure you take off any waxy coating first.
6. Hot peppers
Fresh jalapeños, serranoes, and other small hot peppers are actually easier to de-seed and chop if they are frozen first. Freeze them whole, like berries.
A frozen pepper on your cutting board takes less than a minute to thaw enough so that you can put your knife through it.
I use minced frozen jalapeños very successfully in an easy fresh tomato salsa (fresh tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños and lime juice).
It’s tempting to fry the whole package just to get rid of it. But what you should really do with the remaining bacon is make lardons, an essential, flavourful ingredient in all kinds of dishes—Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, baked beans, Spaghetti Carbonara….
I’ve seen ready-made lardons in the freezer section of grocery stores in Europe. That’s how important it is to continental cuisine. But even if I could buy lardons here, I would still go through the trouble of making my own and freezing them in 4 ounce quantities. It is a bit of work upfront, but it saves so much time later when making those fabulous dishes.
Fresh ginger root is incredibly cheap, but it’s not about the money. We just don’t like to see good, nutritious ingredients end up in the garbage.
It takes less than 10 minutes: Peel the whole root. Cut it up into chunks the size of what you would usually use in a recipe (between half an inch and an inch), and put them into a freezer bag. A piece of frozen ginger takes less than a minute to thaw enough so that you can slice it, chop it, or grate it with a micro-plane.
Whether you buy commercial chicken, vegetable, and beef stock, or make it yourself, you might not use up the whole container. Freeze the remainder in ice cube trays.
Add a cube or two when you stir-fry vegetables.
Organize your freezer
None of these ingredients take much space in your freezer. Consider putting them all into a bin or two so that you can find them easily when you need them. It will also be easier to see when you’re running out and have to buy fresh again.
Your freezer can be a treasure chest of high-flavour, ready-to-use precious ingredients that you’ll draw from again and again.