New class alert: I’m going to be teaching an online class on homemade ricotta gnocchi on Saturday, April 22. You’ll find details and a link to register at the end of this newsletter.
For a good stretch, from about 2014 to 2017 while I was working on and then promoting Preserving Italy, my refrigerator and pantry were stacked with jars of pickles and preserves. More than stacked. Crammed.
Quarts of giardiniera, pints of fennel and carrots in agrodolce, grapes in spiced grappa. Containers of cured olives and fermented green tomatoes, jars of citrus salt and porchetta salt. Hot peppers in oil, sweet peppers in oil, garlic scapes in oil. Strawberry-apricot jam, peach and almond conserva, bitter citrus marmalade.
To tell the truth, it was a little annoying. Every time we went in search of something in the refrigerator (that wasn’t a jam or pickle)—mustard, mayo, peanut butter, yogurt, a container of leftovers—we had to maneuver our way around the jars, either pulling them out and setting them on the countertop, or shuffling them around like the squares on one of those little dime store puzzles.
But the inconvenience was worth it. Whenever I had a craving for something sweet and sour or crunchy and briny, all I had to do was open the fridge. I relied on these stashes for so many things: crunchy pickled cabbage as a quick and colorful side dish to sausages; chopped giardiniera to punch up insalata di riso or giardiniera-stuffed eggs, spiced tomato jam for sandwiches. And when I got to the bottom of a jar, there was always another waiting on a pantry shelf.
Gradually, the supply dwindled. Even as I continued to put up a small selection of greatest hits every year, I let many others fall by the wayside. I spent most of last fall in Italy, and by the time I returned the holidays were upon us so I skipped my usual fall canning ritual, meaning my stash of sott’aceti and sott’olio preserves was even more scarce.
Last week, I realized with dismay (!) that with the exception of a few jars of jam and bread & butter pickles, I was completely out. This at a time of year when I always find myself craving that cold crunch. There’s something about digging into a jar of sour pickled vegetables on a blustery March day that I find irresistible. Maybe you do, too. I think it’s because even as winter vegetables are on their way out, it’s still too early for asparagus and other tender vegetables of spring.
Thankfully, there are the stalwarts, like carrots and cabbage and fennel, that straddle the seasons and that you can rely on in these transitional weeks. The other day I found gorgeous specimens of all three at a local grocery chain (My Organic Market for those of you in the DMV), and so, with a little chopping and brining and processing, I have a fresh supply of Carrots and Fennel in Agrodolce and Cavolo Cappuccio Rosso Sott’Olio—Red Cabbage Pickle. Both recipes are in Preserving Italy. I’m sharing the recipe for the carrots and fennel here; on Tuesday, the recipe for red cabbage pickle will go out to paid subscribers.
Both recipes are simple, as far as preserves go. Only the carrot and fennel pickles call for processing in a boiling water bath. If you’re not familiar or comfortable with the process, you can skip it and store the jars in the refrigerator. I hope you’ll give these a try; their colors and crunch really do brighten these mud season days.
Readers: Do you have a favorite spring preserve or pickle? Please tell us about it in the comments.
RECIPE: Carrots and Fennel in Agrodolce
Italians preserve a variety of vegetables in a sweet-and-sour brine known as agrodolce. This somewhat unusual combination of carrots and fennel is my own creation. The two go well together in salads so, I thought, why not as a pickle? Use a mix of colorful carrots—gold, orange, red—if you can find them. The darker ones turn the brine sunset pink. The pickling softens the anise notes of the fennel, but not too much. Serve this as part of an antipasto platter or as a side to roast chicken.
You’ll need 3 to 4 clean pint-size jars, with new lids and rings, for this recipe. There are detailed instructions on water-bath canning in Preserving Italy, and online here and here. If you are not comfortable with water-bath canning, you can store these pickles in the refrigerator, where they will last for a couple of months. Read the Cook’s Note at the end of the recipe for instructions on sanitizing/sterilizing jars.
Makes 3 to 4 pints
2 cups (437 g) water
Juice of 2 lemons
2 lb (907 g) fennel bulbs, plus 4 small fronds, thoroughly washed
2 lb (907 g) carrots, thoroughly washed and peeled
2 cups (437 g) white wine vinegar
2 cups (437 g) cider vinegar
2 cups (400 g) sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
4 clean or sterilized 1-pint jars and their lids (see Cook’s Note)
Basic water-bath (boiling water) canning equipment; optional
1. If you plan to process the filled jars, follow instructions for filling the canning pot with water and fitting it with a rack to hold the jars. Bring to a simmer.
2. Combine the water and lemon juice in a bowl. Cut the tops off the fennel bulbs. Cut each bulb into quarters and each quarter into thin wedges. Drop the wedges in the lemon water as you go to prevent them from browning. Cut the carrots into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces, and cut any large pieces in half or into quarters lengthwise to yield bite-size pieces. Add the carrots to the lemon water.
3. Combine the vinegars, sugar, salt, peppercorns and fennel seeds in a large, deep saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Bring the brine to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Drain the fennel and carrots and add them to the boiling water. Cover the pot, turn off the heat and let the vegetables sit for 5 minutes.
4. Place a fennel frond in the bottom of each jar. Pack the vegetables into the jars, taking care to get a mix of vegetables and some spices in each one. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch (12 mm) headspace. Use a bubble remover or a clean chopstick to get rid of any bubbles that may be trapped. Screw the lids on tightly, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove the jars and let them cool to room temperature. After a few minutes, you should hear the ‘ping’ of the jar as the lid seals. Let the jars sit undisturbed for 24 hours, then store in a cool dark place and let them cure for at least 1 week before serving. Once opened, store leftovers in the refrigerator. Sealed jars will keep for up to 1 year though the pickles may eventually lose their crisp texture. Store any jars that fail to seal properly in the refrigerator and enjoy those first.
If you don’t want to process the pickles in a boiling water bath, use sterilized jars and lids (see Cook’s Note below). Cap the filled jars and let them rest at room temperature for 24 hours. Then store in the refrigerator, where they will last for up to 3 months.
Cook’s Note: You may have a fair amount of brine left over. Rather than toss it, use it to make fennel-pickled eggs: Hard-boil and peel six medium eggs. Pack them snugly into a sterilized glass jar (see below) and pour hot brine over them, making sure the eggs are completely submerged. Cap tightly and refrigerate. Let the eggs cure for a week or two before using. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using the eggs within 3 to 4 months of pickling (mine never last that long).
Sterilizing jars and lids: The National Center for Home Food Preservation no longer deems it necessary to sterilize jars and lids that will be processed for 10 minutes or more in a water bath. Wash the empty jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse well before using. If you plan to refrigerate the pickles rather than process them, sterilize the jars according to the instructions here; or put them on a baking tray in a cold oven, then turn the oven to 275° F (135° C) and let the jars heat for 30 minutes to sterilize them. To sterilize lids, submerge them in a pot of water and heat to a simmer. Let the lids and rings sit in the hot water until ready to use.
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NEW COOKING CLASS: Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi
Join me online on Saturday, April 22, for this fun and instructive online class. We’ll make a batch of fresh ricotta gnocchi (better than classic potato gnocchi, IMO) and we’ll also make lamb ragù to go with our gnocchi because it’s spring, and spring means lamb! Read more about the class and register here.
Paid subscribers: Click here to receive your code for a 30% discount to the class (same code as for the Savory Easter Tortes class).
FINAL REMINDER: Savory Easter Tortes!
Last call for next Saturday’s Savory Easter Tortes class! There are still a couple of spots left for this online class on Zoom. We will be making Pizza Rustica, a savory torte with lots of cheese and cured meats; and Torta Pasqualina, a vegetarian (not vegan) torte from Liguria with cheese and whole eggs. You are welcomed to make both or just one or to simply watch the process if you prefer.
Paid subscribers: Click here to receive your code for a 30% discount for the class.
PICTURE ITALY: Rome, 2016
As always, thank you for reading, subscribing, and sharing.
I made plum preserves from Italian prune plums. It was a recipe I found in "The Book of Difficult Fruits." Worth a read sometime. Everyone loves the plum delight. Also made "almond" extract from the kernels.
Oh, its "The Book of Difficult Fruit." For the plum recipe and others.