By Lauren Chattman
As a long-time member of Quail Hill Community Farm in Amagansett, I look forward to early September, when the fields are filled with vegetables at their peak, from tomatoes to eggplants to zucchini to broccoli. At the same time, this very abundance makes me anxious. What am I supposed to do with so much food? It’s not in my nature to leave behind any part of my share, so what I can’t use right away I give to friends, or set aside for a rainy (or snowy) day.
If you are lucky enough to have the same problem, there are a few solutions. Refrigeration will keep vegetables fresh for a few days (in the case of delicate lettuces, zucchini, and eggplant) to several weeks (onions, potatoes, winter squash). For longer storage, a little more work is required.
Freezing is one option. For best results, prep your vegetables as if you were going to eat them tonight, trimming stems, peeling if necessary, cutting into pieces. Green beans, carrots, broccoli, eggplant, and peppers are all good candidates. Then blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water, to remove dirt and bacteria, brighten their color, and soften them slightly so they are easy to pack. Transfer the blanched vegetables to a bowl of ice water to stop their cooking, drain them well, pat dry, and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the vegetables are just frozen, about 30 minutes and then in airtight containers or zipper-lock bags, removing as much air as possible from the bags before freezing. (Freezing them first on a baking sheet will prevent them from freezing together into one giant frozen vegetable cube later on.) When you’re ready for farm-fresh broccoli in December, transfer it straight from the freezer to a steamer basket set over some simmering water. Steaming will soften vegetables without making them mushy, a risk when boiling.
If you are more ambitious, you could preserve your vegetables indefinitely in airtight containers at room temperature in a solution of vinegar and salt. Enthusiasts insist that home canning isn’t difficult. Buy special canning jars with two-part lids and rubber gaskets along with canning tongs for lifting the jars out of boiling water. Both are sold at the Variety Store. After sterilizing the jars and tops in a deep pot of boiling water, fill them with vegetables and your pickling solution, remove the air bubbles from the jars, seal them, and boil them again. A trusted recipe is important. Insufficient acid and/or salt in your pickling liquid may allow dangerous bacteria to proliferate at room temperature. Pickled vegetables are always welcome on the menu. Botulism is not.
If this sounds dangerous and you aren’t preserving vegetables with long-term survival in mind, there are refrigerator pickles. On Tuesday, I was almost dismayed to discover that members were entitled to a dozen different kinds of sweet and hot peppers at the farm. I couldn’t resist picking a couple of every type, and when I got home I didn’t know how I’d use them all. I had plenty to make a quart of quick pickles, which would keep in the refrigerator for at least a month. Usually, cooking with peppers is a pain, because you have to seed each one. But for pickles, I just cut each pepper into rings, leaving the seeds and discarding the stem ends. A couple of days bathed in vinegar and they were ready to eat.
Tonight I’m serving my pickled peppers along with fish tacos. I’ll warm up some corn tortillas (the ones from Citarella’s are the best), pan-fry some fluke fillets that I’ll buy at Serene Green (have you checked out the fresh local fish in the coolers on the side of the stand?), and chop some tomatoes and avocados. Leftovers pickles will be in the refrigerator for sandwiches, and as a topping for grilled hot dogs, burgers, chicken, or sausages.
Makes 1 quart
Cut the peppers into ¼-inch-thick rings. For larger peppers, cut the rings in half for easy packing.
4 cups sliced mixed sweet and hot peppers
1 red onion, sliced
1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
- Pack the peppers and onion into a clean 1-quart jar.
- Combine the vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, salt, sugar, oregano, and bay leaf in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over peppers and onions, cover, and refrigerate for a day or two, and up to 1 month, before serving.