Summertime is my favorite time of the year at local farmer’s markets when they are overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. It is also the traditional time to make jams, jellies, pickles and other preserved foods. Buy bushels of freshly picked produce when they are cheap and plentiful, can them, and enjoy the flavors of summer all winter long.
Last month I received a huge 20-pound box of Vidalia onions and I have been working my way through them, loving every bite of their unique sweetness. The only problem with receiving so many at one time is that you have to figure out what to do with them before they spoil. I went searching for ideas and then it dawned on me to make pickled Vidalia onions. And my oh my are they good!
I’m not the kind of person who likes to wait a long time to taste something I have made, so “refrigerator” pickling is perfect for me. You make a quick brine, prepare your fruits or veggies, and let them soak in it, absorbing the wonderful flavors. They are usually ready the next day and that is just about as long as I want to wait, LOL.
In addition to the Vidalia’s, I also wanted to try pickling zucchini. As you know Zuni Café in San Francisco is one of my absolute favorite restaurants and they serve the most amazing pickles. They offer both pickled zucchini and red onions alongside their outstanding burger, and either is enough to make you beg to go back again and again, if only to get more pickles.
With the addition of turmeric, their zucchini pickles turn a vibrant chartreuse. Because they use red onions, their pickled onions are brilliant magenta. I know you can imagine how gorgeous these two are when placed next to each other on the plates, adorning Zuni’s world-famous burgers. It is truly a sight to behold and even better to eat.
It would be a bit challenging to do pickling during the winter when you have to keep the windows closed, because the vinegar-based brine is quite pungent, but whenever the mood strikes you, by all means, make pickles! They are infinitely better tasting than anything you can buy at the grocery store. As a matter of fact, unless you live near a pickle vendor like the ones in New York City, you owe it to yourself to try making at least one batch. They are remarkably easy to make and once you’ve tried them, I’m pretty sure there won’t be any turning back.
I hope you take extra bags with you the next time you go to the farmer’s market and bring home extra zucchini, onions, and cucumbers to make your own homemade pickled vegetables!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Both of these recipes are for refrigerated pickles. They are not designed to be processed in a water bath. If you do that, your pickles will be cooked and limp instead of crunchy and fresh tasting.
Seasoned rice vinegar can be problematic for people with celiac and some of those with gluten-intolerance. You can substitute champagne or sherry vinegar to be careful.
Quick Pickled Vidalia Onions
© 2011 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserve.
2 medium Vidalia, white, or yellow onions
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
Cut the root and stem ends off the onions, lay flat surface on a cutting board and cut in half. Peel away the top papery layer as well as the first layer of onion. Cut each half into 1/4-inch thick wedges.
Transfer onions to a 2 to 3-quart heavy saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to just below a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Remove and discard garlic clove.
In the same saucepan, heat vinegar, water, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic and coriander over medium heat. If you are not using Vidalia onions, add another 2 tsp brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and pour over onions. Cool uncovered to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 weeks.
From the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Yield: about 3 cups pickles
1 lb medium to smallish size zucchini or patty pan squash
1 small yellow onion
2 tbsp sea salt or 3 tbsp kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp dry mustard
1-1/2 tsp crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
Scant 1 tsp ground turmeric
Wash and trim the zucchini, then using a mandoline or very sharp knife, slice into 1/16-inch thick slices. Slice the onion very thin as well. Place together in a large but shallow bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt. The ice water helps keep the zucchini crisp.
After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini – it should be faintly salty and softened. Drain, making sure to remove any remaining ice cubes. Dry very thoroughly between towels, or spin, a few handfuls at a time, in a salad spinner. Excess water will dilute the flavor and spoil the pickle.
Rinse and dry the bowl you were using. Then place the zucchini and onion slices back in the bowl.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds, and turmeric in a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. If the brine is too hot it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.
Pour the cooled brine over the zucchini and onions. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickles to jars, preferably ones with “shoulders” to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color. These keep indefinitely refrigerated.
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