Friday, July 13, 2012

National Pickle Month & An Italian Giardiniera Recipe

Do you love pickles? Well if you do then this blog post is for you! July happens to be National Pickle Month. The pickle is one of America’s favorite “side” condiments. Pickles are used for snacking, serving with a hamburger or sandwich and making a tangy relish. A pickle is simply a cucumber that has been pickled in a brine vinegar and left to ferment for a period of time. Cucumbers were first pickled about 4,400 years ago in Mesopotamia. The pickling process was also known to the Ancient Greeks; Aristotle was to have praised pickled cucumbers for there healing effects. Today, this tangy pickle juice is used by many professional athletes to fight off muscle cramps. The benefits of this juice are that it replaces essential electrolytes that are lost due to physical activity, especially on hot and humid days. So instead of drinking sports drinks that contain sugar and other additives, choose to drink some pickle juice. Who knew?

Pickled cucumbers became popular in the United States due to the influence of the cuisine of European immigrants. Soured cucumbers are most commonly used in an assortment of dishes for example; pickled-stuffed meatloaf, potato salad, chicken salad, or egg salad. They can also be deep fried. There are many varieties of the pickle. They can be sour, dill, or sweet and take on many shapes such as large, midget, gherkins, spears, sliced round (chips), and deli slices.

Some Pickle Fun Facts:
The pickle was brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus--George Washington, John Adams and Dolly Madison liked pickles--Cleopatra claimed pickles contributed to her beauty--Dill pickles are the most popular.

The “Christmas Pickle” is an Old World German tradition related to the Christmas tree. In this tradition, a family decorates its Christmas tree with ornaments including one pickle. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle hidden in its boughs would get a special gift and would supposedly have a year of good fortune. This tradition is commonly believed by Americans to come from Germany, but this is probably fictional. In fact, the tradition is widely unknown in Germany. These pickle ornaments can be made in glass, and even crocheted. I crocheted Christmas Pickles many years ago and gave them to my nieces and nephews for stocking stuffers. Now it has become a tradition to see who can find the pickle first.

We are pickle lovers in my family, especially my dad. Every time we go to a restaurant he always asks for extra pickles. His preference is the kosher dill ones. I prefer the sweet gherkins. No matter what shape or flavor I can say we definitely are a pickle family. Italian Giardiniera is a mix of pickled vegetables that are in vinegar and are typically eaten as an antipasto or with salads. In Italian it is also called “sotto aceti”, which means “under vinegar”. This mix of flavorful spicy vegetables is very common in many Italian kitchens. It is truly a favorite and my niece Lauren loves it so much that when she comes home from school she has some Giardiniera with slices of sopressata (Italian Dry Salami) for a snack. 

My recipe this week is one that I love to make. It is not hard, just takes patience, and it is from one of my favorite shows “Ciao Italia” with Mary Ann Esposito. I hope that you try these pungent pickled vegetables. Mangia Tutto!

Pickled Vegetables or Italian Giardiniera

2 1/2 cups cut up vegetables, such as:
Sweet green, yellow or red bell peppers
Pearl or Cipollini onions
Pepperoni (hot green peppers)

Pickling Mix:
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 1/4 cups of water
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp each whole mustard seed, celery seed, cloves, fennel seed, allspice, and peppercorns

Several new canning jars with lids, either 8 or 10 oz or quart size. Have a pan of ice water ready for “shocking” vegetables. Be sure all veggies are free of blemish, washed, and cut into uniform size, about 1-inch pieces.

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of table salt and cook the vegetables for about 2 minutes (each group separately). With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the pan of ice water. Allow the vegetables to cool for a minute and then drain them in a colander and set aside.

Combine the vinegar, pickling salt, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Turn off the heat.

Mix the dry spices together in a small bowl and divide them among the jars. Fill the jars with the vegetables, leaving about 1/4-inch space at the top. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables to cover them. Cap and allow the jars to cool before storing in the refrigerator. Use after two days or keep refrigerated for up to a month.

Till Next Time……

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