Kitchen Shrink: Bottling up summer’s bounty
A sweet friend invited me to her home the other day and handed me a large crate. She grinned with that proud air of hers as she swept her arm in a flourish, ushering me to her lush and bountiful garden. Her green thumb more accurately resembles an emerald thumb with peach and nectarine trees sagging from the heft and abundance of the hanging aromatic drupes, and planter boxes busting out with a Technicolor of finely bred heirloom tomatoes, fragrant herbs of all manners, sweet peppers, tender cucumbers, and behemoth zucchinis.
While inhaling the heady and exotic aromas that perfumed her piece of paradise I was overcome with a wistful and dizzying sensation. If only we can capture these mouth-watering flavors, vibrant colors, and intoxicating scents of summer, and enjoy them a little longer, maybe into the autumn or even winter months. Well, we can. Here’s how:
It’s a Dilly
The time is ripe to pick a peck of pickled peppers (and cucumbers) to enliven everything from burgers and brats to lobster rolls, assorted salads, and even ice cream (for pregnant cravings, of course) to suit sweet, sour, tangy, and spicy palates. Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation tracing back 5,000 years when Mesopotamians soaked vegetables and fruits in a briny bath of salt, vinegar, herbs and spices until they became nicely fermented. Today, pickles are king of condiments, with a diverse line-up depending on the variety of cucumber, the duration of fermentation, the type of brining liquid and vessel used, and the choice of pickling spices, including bay leaves, peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice, cardamom, juniper berries, and crushed hot peppers.
Ours is a pickle-obsessed nation, with 20 billion consumed every year, while the dill wins the popularity contest. It’s brined in a mixture of vinegar, salt, fresh dill and select spices, then fermented until it transforms into a lip-puckeringly sour, soggy, jade green probiotic delight. While the half-sour dills are crisp, bright green pickles due to their short fermentation period in a low acid, reduced salt brine. Of course, kosher-style dills are brined in kosher salt, along with a mother lode of garlic, giving an oomph of flavor compared to traditional dills.
The Southern states lay a solid claim to the deep-fried pickle, but also the kitschy “Koolickle” (Kool-Aid pickle). After soaking a cuke in a bath of Kool-Aid and sugar for several days, this sweet and sour creation glows in electric neon hues. For a healthier riff try natural food coloring along with stevia or coconut sugar. Sweet tooths might also indulge in tangy bread and butter pickles brined in a sugary vinegar base, usually pickled with pearl onions and bell peppers, and cut into coins with ridged edges.
The short but sweet stone fruit season is reaching the homestretch after a bumper crop of glabrous-skinned nectarines, fuzzy wuzzy peaches, petite apricots, sassy cherries, and crisp plums and pluots. The life of these delicate summer treasures can be extended in chutneys, salsas, sauces, jerkeys, jams, and preserves.
Try a zippy nectarine, ginger and basil jam (recipe below), a fig and peach barbecue sauce, an apricot salsa with a confetti of lemon verbena, pickled red onions, jalapenos, and a squirt of lime juice, a plum chile dipping sauce, or a tangy cherry compote as a multi-tasking topping.
Cook’s tip – White-fleshed peaches and nectarines with a delicate and distinct flavor are best eaten raw in hand or in salads, as they would get lost in baking or cooking. While yellow-fleshed ones have a bold presence that nicely balance sweet and tangy flavors, and shine in cobblers, pies, and preserves.
Frozen in Time
Fresh summer fruits can be perfectly frozen for months until ready to use in the dead of winter in smoothies, tarts, strudels, muffins, scones, and sauces. To prevent clumping and freezer burn simply prepare a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and arrange washed, cut fruit and whole berries in a single layer (no double parking) on the sheet.
Pop in the freezer until firm, about two to three hours, then transfer to a freezer-friendly container or bag. When freezing cherries, you’ll need to pit them either with a cherry pitting gadget, or a sharp knife and adept fingers.
For a fun change-up, puree assorted fruits and seasonal herbs like vibrant basil, invigorating mint, or calming lavender, and blend with dreamy coconut cream for refreshing popsicles, sorbets, and other frozen treats bursting with the flavors of summer.
Now Let’s Get Saucy
If you’ve been blessed with a plethora of tomatoes this season, remember that not all of these lycopene powerhouses are created equal. As a rule of thumb, tomatoes with high water content are best eaten raw like beefsteak, vine-ripened, green doctors, and gorgeous heirlooms perfect in salsas, chutneys, gazpachos, and bruschetta toppings. While cherry, grape, red fig, Roma (plum), and dry-farmed are divine when cooked, caramelizing the natural sugars into a rich and robust paste.
Try a plant-based marinara or creamy tomato vodka sauce; ketchups, barbecue sauces, or an all-purpose sweet and tangy tomato jam, which can also be frozen or stored in Mason jars for eye-popping gifts. Then if you still have some tomatoes left over, whip up a spicy vegetable cocktail, or a zippy Bloody Mary. Cheers!
Ginger Basil Nectarine Marmalade
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
8 nectarines, stoned, diced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
METHOD: Add lemon juice, water, honey, basil and mint to a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Simmer 10 minutes. Discard mint and basil leaves. Add nectarines and ginger. Cook 20 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring often. Fold in orange flower water and vanilla extract. Transfer to a Mason jar.
— Recipe courtesy of Chef Bernard Guillas
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