21 July 2014

Fennel and orange pickle

Fennel and orange pickle

Cauliflower is not the only thing I am pickling this year! Nope. In fact, the pickling vat has been going on and off for several weeks now, and all the results are nothing short of thrilling.

I made yet another batch of my favorite pickled peppers ever, from Emmycooks (come back, Emmy!), doubling the recipe and adding some green beans into the mix. The results are stunning and delicious, and I can't wait to start tossing those beans into weekend bloody marys.

But the real star of the pickling season so far has been a surprise underdog: refrigerator pickled fennel.

This was yet another CSA save. We got multiple heads of fennel two weeks in a row. I am generally not into the typical shredded fennel salad, and so was kind of at a loss for what to do with it. But no more! This is hereby my default way to deal with any fennel that shows up at our house -- at least until I start experimenting with other pickle variations. A lemon variation would certainly be on the table, as would the inclusion of some fresh ginger. Oh man. I'm super excited to try that.

Seriously, it's SO GOOD. It is amazing. I am amazed.

This is heavily based on the pickled fennel with orange recipe in The Joy of Pickling, which is an excellent book and well worth a look if you like pickles even a little. The main change I made was to switch out the white wine vinegar for champagne vinegar, which I find smooth and delightful, and which I actually had in the cupboard besides. I also bumped up the orange zest, because who doesn't love orange zest? And everything worked out beautifully. Hooray!

Though it looks small, it is mighty.

Fennel and orange pickle

Fennel and orange pickle
adapted from The Joy of Pickling

2 heads fennel plus a few fronds (more or less for decoration)
1 tsp pickling salt
zest of 1 orange
4 peppercorns
6 tbsp champagne vinegar
juice of 1 orange (approx 6 tbsp)
1 tbsp sugar
pint jar
semi-optional canning funnel
chopstick or flexible spatula

Start by trimming your fennel bulbs, halving them, and slicing them thinly. In a medium bowl, toss your sliced fennel with the pickling salt. Let this sit for about an hour, so the salt begins to drain some of the juices from the fennel.

When the hour is up, drain off any accumulated liquid. Pack your fennel slices, fronds, and orange zest into a clean pint jar. I used wide strips of orange zest, but I'd recommend that you go for thin strips, either by using an actual zester or by slicing up strips taken with a vegetable peeler. Be careful just to include the zest and no white pith.

To make your brine, crush your peppercorns roughly with a mortar & pestle or the bottom of a measuring cup. Put your pepper, vinegar, orange juice, and sugar into a small pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer, swirling occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.

Using the canning funnel, pour your brine into your jar, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top. Use your chopstick or spatula to go around the edge of the jar, releasing air bubbles. Top up your brine if needed, cap your jar, and put your pickles in the refrigerator overnight.

After 24 hours, crack your jar open and taste your pickles. Try not to just eat the entire jar with a spoon.

Since this is such an unusual pickle, I bet you guys are wondering what to do with it (besides eating it with a spoon, which I heartily recommend). Well, I have found it to be excellent on toasted cheese sandwiches, usually with a milder cheese such as emmenthaler, along with plenty of cracked pepper. A super-simple snack platter of crackers with said emmenthaler, a smear of mustard, and some fennel pickle would be an excellent variation. It's definitely delicious tossed into a green salad, preferably with some orange supremes thrown in. And if you are of the sausage in a bun persuasion, how about searing one up and topping it with big handfuls of pickled fennel?

But I won't judge you if you just eat it with a spoon.

Who else is making crazy pickles this summer? Forget popsicles, right? PICKLES WIN.

(Oh, also I am suddenly going to BlogHer14 this weekend! If you are going, let me know & let's meet up!)

16 July 2014

Refrigerator giardiniera

Refrigerator giardiniera

One of the vegetables we've been getting from our CSA is cauliflower. I love cauliflower, but two heads in two weeks is a little much to work through when there are only two people in the house. So what's the solution?

PICKLES.

When I came across Laurie of Relishing It's Giardiniera, I knew a batch was in my future. All the vegetables in the land, cut into pieces, doused in spicy brine, and kept nice and crispy in the refrigerator? Yes, please!

The vegetable mixture here is super flexible. I just went through the crisper and grabbed everything that sounded like it would make a good pickle. If you want to use a different mix of vegetables, go for it! If I'd had more space, I would have added in some small green beans (tailed but otherwise whole). Laurie added radishes and celery to hers. What do you have? It will probably be delicious.

Re: brine. Most giardinieras seem to include sugar in their brine. I am not at all into sweet pickles, so I decided to leave out the sugar. This was a wise choice for a lovely, vinegary, spicy pickle. However, if you do prefer a sweeter pickle, you can always choose to add a tablespoon or so of sugar. Give it a try and see what you like.

A note on canning: this is a refrigerator pickle, which means it is not processed for long-term storage. While it may be acidic enough to water-bath can, I am not a food safety or canning authority, so I can't provide accurate info about converting this to a canned pickle. Check the Ball Blue Book or another trusted canning resource if you want to make a canned giardiniera.

Refrigerator giardiniera

Refrigerator giardiniera
Based on Relishing It's Giardiniera

Makes 2 pints or 1 quart.

vegetables:
1/4 head cauliflower
1 carrot
1/2 red or yellow pepper, or several baby peppers
1 jalapeno (or half if it's very spicy -- mine was.)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 red onion
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp peppercorns

brine:
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp pickling salt
1 large or 2 small bay leaves

equipment:
2 pint jars or 1 quart jar with lids
canning funnel (semi-optional)
chopstick or flexible spatula

Chop your vegetables into pieces. The size is pretty much up to you. I kept my cauliflower and peppers in larger chunks and sliced everything else, but whatever you like should be fine.

Divide your spices evenly between your clean jars. I used pint jars, so I put 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp oregano, and 1/2 tsp peppercorns in each. To keep the spice distribution fairly equal, add half your garlic and jalapeno slices to each jar as well. If you're using a quart jar, none of this applies, of course.

Pack your mixed vegetables into your jars. I did my best to distribute everything equally, but if you feel like cramming everything in willy-nilly, that's fine too.

Next, make your brine. Add all the brine ingredients to a saucepan with a lid. Bring the brine to a boil and cook, covered, until the salt has dissolved.

Remove the bay leaves and add one to each jar. Pour your hot brine into your jars, using the canning funnel if you so desire. Leave 1/4 inch of space at the top. Use a chopstick to release any air bubbles, working your way around the side of each jar. Top up the brine if needed, lid, and refrigerate overnight.

After 12-24 hours, your giardiniera will be ready. Hooray!

Refrigerator giardiniera

I especially love how the red onion tinges everything a beautiful pink.

What can you do with giardiniera?

- If you are a pickle lover, just eat it as a snack, or as a side with a big deli sandwich.
- Scatter handfuls of it into big green mixed salads.
- Use small pieces as garnish for deviled egg halves.
- In fact, chop up a handful and add it to egg salad or potato salad in place of the typical dill pickle.
- Use it as a garnish for a hearty soup like borscht.
- Puree it with a handful of kalamata olives for a very pickley tapenade.

What pickle experiments are you conducting this summer?

14 July 2014

Nocino: Italian black walnut liqueur

Nocino: Italian black walnut liqueur

Green black walnuts are clustering in the trees and staining the sidewalks in our neighborhood, so I foraged a few nice specimens and brought them home to make a batch of nocino.

What is nocino, you ask? Well. Nocino is an Italian black walnut liqueur flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon. It's traditionally made at the very end of June, since that's when the walnuts are fully formed but still green enough that you can easily chop them up. But for those of you who live in a climate a little less balmy than that of Italy, I'm guessing now is the perfect time to go find some green walnuts and start your own batch.

I still have a huge selection of homemade schnappses and liqueurs hanging around our kitchen cupboards, but I couldn't resist adding at least a tiny batch of authentic nocino. So here's what I'm doing to make one pint jar's worth of nocino this year. The results are going to be small, but so worth it.

Caution: walnuts stain! Be sure to wash your cutting board and knife immediately after chopping your walnuts, or you will have some serious fluorescent green to deal with in the future.

Nocino: Italian black walnut liqueur

Small batch homemade nocino

5-6 unripe black walnuts, quartered (to fill ~2/3 pint jar)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
about half a 750 ml bottle of vodka
mason jar with lid
simple syrup to taste

Put your walnuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick into your jar. Cover with vodka up to the rim of the jar. Lid the jar, label it, and put it into a dark cupboard to steep.

Agitate the jar every few days for the first week or so of steeping, and once every week or two after that. The walnuts will oxidize and the vodka will turn disturbingly dark within a few days. Don't be alarmed! This is normal! You'll want to take off the lid every once in a while to introduce fresh oxygen and promote the oxidation process. As you continue steeping, the color will mellow to a rich dark walnut brown. So pretty.

Steeping time varies from recipe to recipe. I'd recommend you steep your nocino for at least a month, and up to three months if you can stand the wait. Then, when you're ready to bottle, strain out all the solids through a fine sieve or coffee filter. You may need a second or third straining to remove all the organic material.

Nocino: Italian black walnut liqueur

Flavor your nocino with a simple syrup made from 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. I'd suggest starting with about a tablespoon of simple syrup per cup of liqueur. Then taste and consider whether you want to add more syrup. Pour your final concoction into the jar or bottle of your choice.

Put your finished nocino in the liquor cupboard to age for at least a few weeks before you drink it. The last time I made black walnut schnapps (a very similar liqueur, just omitting the lemon zest and cinnamon), I aged it for a full year before drinking. That produced an excellent liqueur! But if you are impatient, you are definitely free to taste your nocino and drink it when you think it's sufficiently delicious.

How should you drink nocino? Well, you can certainly have it plain as a totally different and delightful aperitif, but I suggest you experiment with some cocktail recipes, such as Savvy Housekeeping's black walnut manhattan. SO good.

Are you making any interesting infusions this summer?