Sunday, February 3, 2013

In a pickle

The basics
People have lots of odd hobbies they like to get their hands in when they have some down time.  When it's a long, rainy, grey Monterosso day, there isn't too much you can do this time of year.  You can, like some people next to me on the couch, watch soccer highlights and YouTube videos.  People clean out old closets, organize storage areas in the garage under the house, iron, read, catch up with friends and family, and so forth.

I've found that I can do all of these things in the morning and still have the afternoon free.  There are really just too many hours in a rainy day.

So, I've returned to one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen, which is to pickle.

Vegetable rainbow waiting to be pickled
I love pickles, of all sorts.  Okra, carrots, green beans, radishes...cucumbers, of course, but man does not live on pickled cucumbers alone.  I started pickling years ago, meticulously sterilizing Mason Jars then using tongs and boiling tops with a deep fear of Botulism pulsing into my pounding heart.  Several dozen times later, I'm still here and happily munching away on my jars of preserved vegetables, but I found myself simply put off by the whole process as well as too impatient to wait that long.

Refrigerator pickles are the easy, simple and fast solution to keep your favorite snacks for at least a month, though I've never had them last that long.  I use a very basic recipe that I make differently every time - the only thing I measure is the vinegar and the water, the rest is something that is a happy surprise in every jar.  Using a variety of small jars means that I can experiment with different spices, produce and sweetness while ensuring if I make something completely inmangabile (inedible), it's just that little jar that will get tossed.

First, take several glass jars with screw tops and clean them very thoroughly with hot, hot water and soap.  Make sure they are well rinsed and dry, then pack them to the top with the veggie of your choice.  Okra makes a lovely jar as do sliced carrots or a mixture of radish, onion and celery.  Cucumbers, of course, and cauliflower are other great choices.  Italians use this process of putting vegetables sott'aceto, or under vinegar, as much as we do, but for a far greater variety of produce then just cucumbers.  Get creative!

Start by slicing a few onions paper thin, and then adding them liberally to the jars.
Cooling before finding their homes in the fridge
In a medium sized sauce pan, over a medium high flame, bring 1 cup of apple cider vinegar plus a few tablespoons and 1 cup of purified water to a boil.  You can add less vinegar, of course, but my tastes veer towards the vinegary side, so this recipe always works for me.  Add a heaping spoonful of sugar, and the same amount of salt, plus another teaspoon.  Crush a few cloves of garlic, remove the skins, and throw them in as well.  A spoonful of whole black peppercorns, dried dill, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and a dried peperoncino, and when the mixture is boiling, remove from the flame and immediately pour into the veggie filled jars, seeds and all.  Make sure to get at least a clove or two of the garlic and a good amount of the seeds in each jar, and make sure the veggies are totally covered.  Seal tightly, and leave out for a few hours until the jars are cool, then move to the refrigerator.  Leave them for about a week, then get snacking.

Spicy cucumbers with turmeric
Sometimes I'll add more sugar and omit the coriander for a more "bread and butter" variety, sometimes I'll throw in a hefty spoonful of vivid orange turmeric and a skinned chunk of ginger.

It's also fun to add things like more hot peppers and more sugar to okra, warm middle eastern spices like cumin to some thin sliced carrots, and sweet raisins to a vinegary cauliflower.

Radish, celery, carrot and ginger
Refrigerator pickles are easy, not at all intimidating, and a great way to pass a few hours, ensuring that in a week, you have a fridge full of all the colors of the rainbow.

Just in jars, under vinegar.

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