I’ve pickled onions and green tomatoes before, but I’ve also had trouble controlling the amount of acid or salt. You can follow recipes, but the problem comes with the actual vegetables or fruits. They might have more or less water content, acid levels, variations in ripeness, or just a different type of tomato than the recipe.
When we were in Ponza, the local ladies used a technique I’d never heard of. Basically they start by soaking the vegetables in vinegar to ‘cook’ them, drain, season and cover in vegetable oil. The Ponzese seem to use a lot of vegetable oil, instead of olive oil. I suspect this is because there aren’t many olive trees on the island so they’ve never developed a strong olive oil culture. This is not long term storage pickling, it’s summertime instant-gratification-eat-them-tonight pickling.
(I’m using the word vegetable as a catchall, it includes roots and fruits..so don’t go all persnickety on me!)
What I’m enjoying about this technique is that you can easily control the final outcome. It’s fast, and you can make small batches so experimenting with flavor combinations is easy.
I used the same technique for everything but the roasted peppers:
- Slice your vegetable, fruit, or root
- Soak in vinegar
- Lightly rinse with fresh water
- Arrange the pickled vegetable in a clean jar
- Cover with vegetable oil
* A note on the vinegar: I have an abundance of red wine vinegar in the house, and not a drop of white vinegar, so, you guessed it…I used my red wine vinegar. It turned the eggplant an appealing meaty red and barely tinged the zucchini. It’s more of a color thing than flavor, although my red vinegar is probably milder than a store bought white vinegar. (And yes, I ‘make’ my own vinegar…if that’s what you call throwing any left over wine into a big glass jar to ferment. Not exactly rocket science, but oh so rewarding.)
(anything arabiata or ‘angry’ means its spicy)
1 zucchini sliced paper thin
1 hot chili pepper
1 clove of garlic
Using a mandoline, slice the zucchini paper thin. Place the slices in white wine vinegar, covering the slices. Add a good two finger pinch of salt. Add the chili pepper and a crushed clove of garlic. Let sit for about 45-80 minutes.
Here’s where your personal taste kicks in. Taste the zucchini at about 45 minutes. If it tastes crunchy and pleasantly vinegary…you’re done. If you like the flavor to be stronger, leave the zucchini to marinate a bit longer.
I roughly chopped my chili pepper, and it’s a good thing I did, because that particular pepper was MAD hot so I pulled out 2 of the chili chunks before we hit the four alarm fire stage.
Zucchini picks up flavorings quickly so don’t go overboard with the garlic and chili.
Drain the vinegar, lightly rinse the zucchini with fresh water. Place in a clean jar, cover the slices with vegetable oil and that’s it.
1 medium eggplant
1 clove of garlic
1 hot chili pepper
Coarsely shred the eggplant lengthwise using the big holes on a hand grater. You should get long strips of eggplant. Cover the strips with vinegar and a generous two finger pinch of salt.
The eggplant takes longer to ‘cook’ in the vinegar than the zucchini. Figure on tasting at about 90 minutes, but you could go as long as two hours. You want the eggplant to be firmly crunchy, not soggy or spongey.
When the eggplant is done to your liking, drain well, rinse lightly, and then give the eggplants strips a strong squeeze to rid them of excess vinegar. Season with a sprinkle of good oregano, toss in a crushed garlic clove and some chili pepper, cover with oil and you are good to go.
Pickled Red Onions
Fennel and/or Parsley Seeds
Grated Orange Peel
Thinly slice the onions, add the vinegar and figure on about 30-45 minutes of marinating time. Again, you want a good crunch, not a soggy onion.
Drain the vinegar, very lightly rinse with fresh water and arrange the slices in a jar. Add the fennel and parsley seeds and a little bit of grated orange peel.
Lots of coarse salt
In a 350F/180C preheated oven, roast the whole peppers on a bed of coarse salt until they are soft. Depending on the size of the pepper, it should take about 20 minutes. The salt bed absorbs the excess juices and keeps the pepper from getting super soggy. Place the peppers in a paper bag, or cover with paper towels until they cool. (I don’t know about you, but paper bags are getting to be a scare commodity around here. The paper towels work almost as well. Almost.)
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, cut into strips and place them in a clean jar.
Now you can get very creative with the seasoning: some garlic, an anchovy, fresh parsley etc. I kept mine pure, just a sprinkle of salt so that when I serve them I can give them a unique little flavor bump. Why serve the same peppers twice?
Now, what do you do with all these pickled goodies?
I like to add them to a green salad, either on top, or mixed into a salad dressing and tossed throughout the salad. The marinated eggplant tastes great mixed into a cucumber salad. Or you could do like they do in Ponza and serve the pickles on top of ‘bruschetta” (toasted or dried bread). The zucchini slices would be delicious in place of pickles on a hamburger. Have some fun..its summertime after all! (At least in my part of the world!)