- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

As my book “Stress Free Cooking” (Wimmer Cookbooks) illustrates, I am always looking for easy paths to terrific food, and pickling is no exception.

The basis of stress-free cooking is to keep a well-stocked pantry. By eliminating extra trips to the market, we can have more time in the kitchen to actually cook. Remember that the term pantry also includes the refrigerator and freezer and that these two appliances are good for helping us preserve summer’s bounty.

Among pantry items that help speed us toward quick and easy preparations are marinades, vinaigrettes and dressings. Take them a step further, and we can give our favorite summer vegetables a quick “pickle,” which will allow us to keep them in the refrigerator for up to a year.

To pickle is to preserve food in a seasoned brine or vinegar mixture. The water-bath canning method our grandmothers used is probably the best-known way to pickle, but because I am all about stress-free cooking, emphasizing freshness and quality, I like to preserve as much of summer’s bounty as time permits — the easy way, using what I call quick pickling.

It is less complicated and requires less equipment and time than the water-bath method, so we can process and enjoy our fresh summer pickles within 24 hours.

Could this be the pickling answer to instant gratification?

There is an exception. Low-acid foods, such as green beans, require a water bath. For the water-bath method, we need a large canning pot with lid, tongs and jar rack.

We must sterilize jars, fill them and process the full jars in a canning bath for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. We then have extremely hot jars to cool and store.

These foods will last 1 to 2 years at room temperature, but I recommend keeping them for 1 year at the most. If you are lucky enough to have the kind of time required for this method, you might find it to be well worth the effort. If you are like me, though, time is a premium commodity, so quick pickling is perfect.

All quick pickling requires is clean jars, a 4-quart pot and appropriate ingredients, such as salt, vinegar, seasonings of choice, and the foods (in this case, vegetables) to be pickled. A salt-and-vinegar brine is prepared, heated and poured over the vegetables.

Within a day we can enjoy the fruits of our labors. A good example of this is my recipe for quick pickles (recipe follows), which offers a choice of 2 seasonings: classic dill and my signature Italian herb and garlic. Try one or both.

Another type of quick pickling involves marinades.

A marinade is a seasoned liquid in which food is soaked so that it absorbs flavor and, in some instances, tenderizes tough cuts of meat.

Marinating is not strictly a preservation method, but it is a way to impart flavor and extend shelf life for a few days.

A basic vinaigrette consisting of 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon or any fruit juice) and 2 to 3 parts extra-virgin olive oil combined with our favorite seasonings makes a wonderful marinade.

Many vegetables can be enjoyed either with a marinade or by giving them a quick pickling. One of my favorites is cipolline onions, those wonderful little Italian onions that I love bathed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

I also love artichoke hearts quartered and marinated in a mixture of lemon, garlic and parsley.

To make it extra easy on yourself, try it with frozen artichoke hearts.

Good, too, are lemons preserved in salt with an essence of lavender, and small cucumbers pickled with vinegar, salt and Italian herbs. Served together, these are the makings of a wonderful summer antipasto.

In addition to antipasto, preserved lemons are fabulous sliced thinly and tucked under the skin of a whole chicken before roasting or grilling. This imparts an exquisite savory lemon essence.

Use my recipe for preserved lemons with lavender to take chicken to a new level.

The same preserved lemons also impart a wonderful flavor when tossed into couscous or pasta. Marinated artichokes can be served with any grilled or roasted dishes. Or try tossing them with pasta, shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes. Homemade pickles jazz up almost anything.

So play it cool this summer. Turn on some music, turn up the air conditioning and transform your cooking into amusement rather than work with these quick and easy recipes.

Basic vinaigrette

This vinaigrette can be used as a salad dressing or as a vegetable marinade.

1/4 cup vinegar

Pinch fine sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place vinegar, salt and pepper to taste in bowl. Start whisking and slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. Taste after ½ cup oil has been added.

The amount of oil required to balance the vinegar will depend on the vinegar selected. Makes 3/4 to 1 cup vinaigrette dressing.

Variations: Use different types or flavors of vinegar, lemon juice or fruit juice.

• Add 1 to 2 drops orange oil or orange extract.

• Add chopped fresh herbs.

• Add roasted garlic.

• Add fresh raspberries.

• To make a French vinaigrette, add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.

Balsamico cipolline onions

1 pound fresh cipolline onions, unpeeled, which will yield 2 to 3 cups peeled

Warm balsamico bath marinade (recipe follows)

Fill a 4-quart saucepan about half full with water and bring to a boil. Drop unpeeled onions in water and cook for about 1 minute.

Remove from boiling water to a bowl of cold water. Thinly slice off the root end and slip off skins. Discard skins.

Make warm balsamico bath marinade and keep warm. Add peeled onions to marinade pan, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Sauce will thicken a bit. Cool. Place in glass jars and refrigerate.

Makes 2 to 3 cups onions.

WARM BALSAMICO BATH MARINADE

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup dry white wine such as Orvieto

2 pinches fine sea salt

Black pepper

Place olive oil, vinegar, wine, sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper in 4-quart saucepan and bring to boil. Use this to make balsamico cipolline onions.

Preserved lemons with lavender

1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (see note)

3 teaspoons salt (divided use)

½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for filling jar

2 lemons

Have ready a clean 1-pint jar.

Make lavender water by placing ½ cup water, lavender buds, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ cup lemon juice in a pan. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep warm.

In the meantime, quarter lemons lengthwise but not all the way through. (You want the 4 lemon quarters to be attached at one end.) Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the middle of each lemon.

Place both lemons in a 1-pint jar. Pour hot lavender water over and add enough additional fresh lemon juice to fill jar.

Cover tightly. Turn jars daily to ensure even preservation. They will be ready to use in a few weeks and will keep for several months. Lemons are ready when they are soft.

Note: Dried lavender buds are sold in the spice sections of many supermarkets.

Quick pickles

BRINE: 1 cup distilled white vinegar

½ cup sugar

1/3 cup salt

5 cups water

Seasonings of choice (recipes follow)

6 to 8 small pickling cucumbers

Have ready 3 clean 1-pint jars.

To make brine, place vinegar, 5 cups water, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add seasonings of choice and let steep for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, slice 6 to 8 small pickling cucumbers with the slicing blade of a food processor or by hand. Fill jars about 3/4 full with cucumbers and pour brine in jars to fill.

Cool and cover tightly. Refrigerate when cooled. Pickles will be ready in 24 hours.

Makes 3 pints.

SEASONINGS OF CHOICE

Classic dill: 1 head of crown dill, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives. ½ teaspoon pickling spice (I used Melissa’s).

Italian herb and garlic: 1 sprig each of basil, oregano and rosemary, 1 clove garlic, crushed.

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