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Every year I increase my green bean plantings, yet no matter how many beans I plant, no matter how many beans I freeze, it never seems to be enough. We never make it all the way through winter with a single bean left in our freezer. I would eat green beans every day if I could, and therein lies the problem.
Unfortunately, blanching green beans is a job that I never really mastered well enough to do by myself in an energy-efficient fashion. One year I bucked the experts’ advice and froze a few bags of beans without blanching them first. That experiment was extremely successful: I proved beyond any reasonable doubt that if you freeze beans without heating them to inactivate their enzymes, the result will be beans so disgustingly bland and mushy that they can’t even be thrown in a soup. My worms enjoyed them though!
So a few years ago, I decided to try another experiment. Rather than blanching beans for two minutes in a big pot of boiling water, cooling them in ice water for five minutes, dabbing them dry with a towel, then packing them into a freezer bag, I decided to determine whether I could kill those troublesome enzymes by heating the beans in a very large sauté pan. So I washed and destemmed a gallon or so of beans, poured a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan, added about a quarter inch of water, turned the burner on medium heat, and let the water come to a slow boil before I filled the pan with green beans and closed the lid.
I let the water come back to a simmer, then stirred the beans to coat them well with oil. I opened the lid and gently stirred the beans a couple of times while they were blanching, just to make sure they were all heated evenly. When the beans started to change color,* I considered them blanched, and transferred them to a large platter, where I spread them out to cool. I then added a little more water and oil to my pan and started my next batch. When the first batch was cool to the touch, I put them in a large freezer bag and popped the bag in the freezer.
I was quite pleased with this method, because heating a sauté pan requires far less fuel than heating up a large stockpot full of water, and I didn’t have to use multiple timers simultaneously. I was able to clean and prepare beans quickly enough so I could put a new batch in the pan immediately after the previous batch was taken out to cool, a feat that I had never managed while doing traditional blanching. Perhaps best of all, it was quite obvious from looking at the water and oil in the pan that the sauté-blanched beans were retaining more of their nutrients, simply because they weren’t boiling in a huge amount of water. (Water used to blanch beans in the traditional fashion always ends up a disconcertingly bright, saturated green.)
But, as they say, the proof is in the eating, and sauté-blanched green beans passed that test with flying colors and big, full flavor. So that, as far as I was concerned, was that.
After that, I tried sauté-blanching other vegetables, and was quite pleased with the results; zucchini freezes beautifully after being sauté-blanched, and so does eggplant. In fact, about a month ago I used some frozen eggplant to make an Eggplant Parmesan that was immensely popular. Now I just have to figure out how to improve my eggplant husbandry technique ….
* I plant a few purple beans to act as temperature sensors when I am processing beans. Purple beans turn green when they are heated through; so as soon as my purple beans start to turn green, I figure the whole batch is blanched.