Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preserving without the Can

When canning season arrives, everything else gets put on hold, and it's hard not to fall behind with the cavalcade of produce. The good news is, you don't have to can everything now to eat it later.

At the September 26th farmers' market, I demonstrated three techniques that I use every year and not one of them involves sterilizing jars:

quick refrigerator pickle
There are lots of veggies to pickle besides cucumbers, like onions, carrots and fennel. All these crunchy vegetables hold up well in a vinegar brine in your refrigerator for months and months provided they're well sealed.

To make the brine, I use a general formula of equal parts vinegar and water, then spice it up any way I like--with pickling spices, chilis and garlic or curry powder. Curry powder?

At the market I made Curried Pickled Carrots by slicing Backyard Gardens carrots into long fingers about 1/4-inch thick and crowding them into a pint-sized jar. I poured a brine made from equal parts rice wine vinegar and water, then spooned in a tablespoon of curry powder, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1 clove of garlic and a slice of fresh ginger.

Put on the lid, shake well and put it in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before tasting.

roast or grill then freeze
This is a simple and quick technique. I use it for all the tomatoes (from beefsteak to cherry), eggplant, zucchini and peppers that I don't have time to can. I slice them, rub or brush them with olive oil and season with salt. I grill them or roast them in a 400 degree oven until they're blistered and charred in spots. Then, I freeze them all in resealable plastic bags.

Oh, the possibilities when I pull them out of the freezer--everything from soups to stew to panini sandwiches. At the market, I demonstrated a great appetizer called Caponata using grilled eggplant and roasted tomato puree.

First I pureed 3 roasted and defrosted tomatoes in a food processor until smooth and put it into a medium mixing bowl. Then, I diced defrosted grilled eggplant slices to make about 2 cups. I added 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. I tasted it to make sure that it was pleasingly sweet and sour, which you should do too and adjust to suit your own taste.

Caponata typically calls for toasted pine nuts, golden raisins, capers and green olives, pitted and chopped--a few tablespoons of each. That day, I had to improvise with pumpkin seeds and minced pickled peppers and it was really good. The key is to make it sweet, sour, bitter and salty with crunch and texture. Then spread it onto pieces of toasted bread and grab a glass of wine.

puree then freeze
Making pesto is all well and good, but I often skip all the expense of olive oil and pine nuts and puree the herbs themselves in just enough neutral-tasting oil, such as canola, to make a paste. You can do the same thing with parlsey or cilantro. Then, drop tablespoon-sized dollops of the herb puree onto a sheet pan lined with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in the freezer. In a few hours or the next day, peel the frozen herb "cookies" and store them in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer.

You'll be amazed the zest fresh-frozen herbs add to all your winter soups and stews. Dried herbs can't ever compare! At the market demo, I used the basil puree I made to garnish the caponata crostini.

Mmmmm, they were good.