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Quick pickles have all the flavor without the wait

November 3, 2014

Step 4: When the pumpkin is softened, carefully rinse of the pieces to remove all of the salt, and drain well.

White wine vinegar, water, honey and spice. I was more than a little curious as I gently simmered the ingredients over the stove. The aroma, at first richly fragrant and sweet with notes of cinnamon, allspice and vanilla, finished with subtle but sharp acidity from the vinegar as it filled the kitchen.

Fingers crossed, I poured the mixture over crisp sliced apple — another batch of quick fall pickles almost finished.

Cucumbers may be the poster child when it comes to pickles, but there is a world of possibilities out there, drawing on ancient techniques and inspired by cultures the world over. And where your options may once have been limited to the spread on your grandmother’s holiday relish tray, pickles are seemingly everywhere now, the darlings of artisan producers and the muse of chefs. Best of all? They’re simple to make at home and can come together quickly.

Lately I’ve been inspired by all the colorful fall produce.

Take cranberries. Pickled cranberries are a small step flavor-wise from cranberry relish and are simple to prepare. Combine cider vinegar and water with a handful of aromatics — cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange zest and fresh ginger — on the stove. Add maple syrup to sweeten, and bring it to a gentle simmer to marry the flavors. Stir in the cranberries and heat just until they begin to pop, to allow the flavors to penetrate. Then chill the berries, submerged in the liquid, until ready to enjoy and up to a couple of weeks.

Where traditional pickles can take weeks to ferment — ingredients are salted, drawing out moisture and natural sugars that ferment over time to preserve the food through acidity — quick pickles come together in a day or so, the food soaked in an acidic liquid, typically vinegar-based, to saturate it with flavor.

Pumpkin is another great option, and it makes for a great savory pickle. I prefer to cut the squash into larger chunks — an inch or so square — and salt them for a few hours to draw out moisture and soften the pieces. Rinse the pieces well, then add them to a pot of gently simmering white balsamic vinegar and water flavored with crushed garlic cloves, fresh sage, thyme and marjoram. Brown sugar adds a hint of sweetness and pairs well with the squash.

Feel free to experiment with vinegars and flavorings, fine-tuning to get the balance just right. Don’t overdo it with the spices at first, as they will continue to penetrate with time. And play with the size and shape of the pickles to get the texture and crunch factor just right.

It took a few trial batches — fine-tuning the spice blend here, adjusting the thickness of the slices there — before I got the apples just right. They’re great eaten out of hand but also work in salads and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Oh, and they look beautiful on a holiday relish tray.

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QUICK PICKLED APPLES

25 minutes, plus refrigeration time. Makes a generous quart.

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup water

1 cup honey

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

1 teaspoon salt

1 whole nutmeg, cracked

1 vanilla bean, split

1 1/2 pounds sweet/tart apples such as Braeburn or Gala

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, water and honey, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the cinnamon, allspice, salt, nutmeg and split vanilla bean. Cover and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes to marry the flavors.

2. While the liquid is simmering, core and quarter the apples (they do not have to be peeled). Slice each quarter lengthwise into one-fourth-inch-thick slices and place in a nonreactive bowl.

3. After the liquid has simmered, remove it from the heat and pour the liquid and spices over the apples. Weight the apples down using a heavy plate so they stay submerged in the liquid.

4. Refrigerate the apples for at least a day to give the flavors time to develop. The pickles will last, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

EACH OF 16 (1/4 CUP) SERVINGS

Calories 53

Protein 0

Carbohydrates 14 g

Fiber 3 g

Fat 0

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 10 g

Sodium 38 mg

QUICK PICKLED CRANBERRIES

15 minutes, plus refrigeration time. Makes a generous quart.

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

2 cups maple syrup

3 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

4 whole star anise

Zest of 2 oranges (zest cut into long strips using a vegetable peeler or knife)

About 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced fresh ginger rounds

2 (10-ounce) bags fresh cranberries (or frozen, thawed)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and maple syrup, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, orange zest and ginger. Cover and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes to marry the flavors. Add the cranberries to the liquid. As soon as the liquid comes to a simmer once again, remove from heat.

2. Pour the cranberries, liquid and spices into a nonreactive bowl.

3. Weight the cranberries down using a heavy plate so they stay submerged in the liquid.

4. Refrigerate the cranberries for at least a day to give the flavors time to develop. The pickles will last, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

EACH OF 16 (1/4 CUP) SERVINGS

Calories 44

Protein 0

Carbohydrates 11 g

Fiber 2 g

Fat 0

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 8 g

Sodium 2 mg

QUICK PICKLED PUMPKIN

15 minutes, plus salting and refrigeration time. Makes a generous quart.

2 pounds peeled, cleaned and cubed pumpkin (or other winter squash), cut into 1-inch pieces (from about 4 pounds of whole pumpkin)

About 1/4 cup kosher salt

2 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar (rice vinegar can be substituted)

2 1/2 cups water

2 cups light brown sugar

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs sage

2 sprigs marjoram

2 tablespoons white peppercorns

1. Place the pumpkin in a large nonreactive bowl, and toss with the salt, rubbing the salt evenly over all sides of the pumpkin pieces. Set the pumpkin aside for 3 to 4 hours to give the salt time to penetrate and soften the pieces. When the pumpkin is softened, carefully rinse off the pieces to remove all of the salt, and drain well.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and sugar, loosely cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and add the pumpkin pieces. Return the heat to high, and as soon as the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from heat.

3. Ladle the pumpkin and vinegar mixture into a clean, nonreactive bowl, and stir in the garlic, thyme, sage, marjoram and peppercorns. Weight the pumpkin using a heavy plate so it stays submerged in the liquid.

4. Refrigerate the pumpkin for at least a day to give the flavors time to develop. The pickles will last, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

EACH OF 16 (1/4 CUP) SERVINGS

Calories 49

Protein 1 g

Carbohydrates 12 gr

Fiber 0

Fat 0

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 10 g

Sodium 215 mg

NOTE: The garlic in the pickling liquid may turn blue over time; this can be due to the water used or iodine in the salt. If this happens, simply remove the garlic pieces. The pickles will be fine.

 

 


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