Tomatoes are a staple in any home cook’s vegetable arsenal, even though they’re technically a fruit. Whether you mix them into a paste, cut them into salad-ready cubes or eat them whole, they’re a key component in literally thousands of dishes. The only thing they can’t do? Last for a long time without help.
Most foodies know that summer is prime time for buying tomatoes at your grocery store, but there’s a solution that can extend their lifespan by months: Put them in the freezer.
Most people don’t think of preserving fresh tomatoes in the freezer, and there’s usually a good reason for that. If you don’t prep them before tossing them in, the fibers in the tomato can break down, giving them a mushy texture and robbing them of flavor. The secret is chilling them in an uncovered bowl or on a sheet pan, then sealing them up for the long haul after they’ve gone through the initial freeze.
Mind you, they won’t be quite the same texture, and will be better suited to using in a sauce or stew than eaten whole. If that’s your plan, you’ll also want to blanche them before freezing. For those not familiar with the technique, blanching means simply boiling things for a short while, then cooling them quickly. Not only will this curb the enzyme action that causes tomatoes to lose their flavor, it will also let the skins peel right off.
Here are the basic steps to follow for whole tomatoes:
- Wash them thoroughly under cold water, then wipe them completely dry with a cloth or paper towel.
- Cut off the stems, or any remnant of the stems (that little “belly button” that tomatoes often have at the top).
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the tomatoes. Remove them after a short while — anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
- Place the tomatoes in an ice bath or run them under cold water. If you want to remove the skins at this point, you’ll find they should peel off easily.
- Dry off the tomatoes again and put them into a bowl or some other container with no lid. Put them into the freezer.
- Once they’re completely frozen (which should take no more than 3 hours), transfer them into a plastic bag or some other closed container, being careful to squeeze out as much air as you can.
If you already know you’re using the tomatoes for a sauce or gravy, you can liquefy them ahead of time. The process is much the same:
- Repeat the first four steps above.
- Slice your tomatoes (preferably peeled) into fourths.
- Let them simmer in a saucepan for at least five minutes.
- Liquefy them with a tomato press, or put them into a blender.
- Put the juice or paste into an airtight container, leaving an inch or two of space under the lid.
- Put the container into the freezer.
And there you have it! No matter what state they’re in, your tomatoes should last for up to eight months. It’s always a good idea to put a date on the container so that you can make sure they don’t overstay their welcome in the freezer. Also, resist the urge to season your tomatoes before you put them in storage. Onion, garlic and many herbs will undergo changes in flavor at different rates when frozen, so it’s best to use those when fresh.