Monday, September 6, 2010

Dill Pickles and Fresh Basil Pesto

Pickles and Pesto? No, they don't go together, but my activity the past several days has included both. As the garden produces and as any vegetable gardener knows, time is required when the produce is ready for harvest.

In my earlier years, canning was the predominant choice of preserving fruits and vegetables, but over the past 40 years I have migrated to freezing much of what we harvest. However, with pickles, this cold pack method (cold, uncooked food packed into jars, then heated) is what I use.

: If you have never done any canning before and are interested in the process, I would first suggest doing some research. Here is a good reference that should answer most of your questions. You can also find numerous recipes for Dill pickles; some use cider vinegar, some white... all according to ones preference. This happens to be the ingredients I used.

Dill Pickles from Diana's kitchen
(yields about 12-14 quarts)

10-12 pounds of small firm cucumbers, washed and rinsed


2 quarts apple cider vinegar
4 quart water
1/2 cup canning/pickling salt
2 cup sugar

1 or 2 garlic cloves (according to taste)
1 to 2 dried hot red chili peppers (according to taste)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 to 2 fresh dill heads


Soak the cucumbers in ice water for about 2 hours.
Sterilize the quart jars and set up the following pots: one for the brine, a small sauce pan for the jar lids, and of course your canner.

Combine vinegar, water, salt and sugar and begin heating in a large pot. (Since my canner holds only 7 quarts, I divide the above portions of vinegar, water, salt and sugar in half and do two batches of the brine.)

Into the bottom of each sterilized quart jar, place garlic clove/s, dried red chili pepper/s, dill, and stuff cucumbers tightly into the jar (put the larger ones in first along the side and stuff the smaller ones between the cracks and on top).

Bring the vinegar brine to boiling and pour into each jar of cucumbers, enough to cover them and leaving about 1/2 inch head space or more. Wipe the rim of the jar clean. Place the lid on and tightly screw the rim on. (Note: The flat disc lids should be in a small saucepan of hot water for several minutes prior to putting them on the jar rim.)

Place each quart into the canner of boiling water; water should slightly covers the lids. Bring the water back to a simmer and process the quarts for 15 minutes. Carefully remove each jar and set aside and away from any draft. Lightly cover with a hand towel and do not touch the lid, but allow them to seal over a period of hours.

From start to finish, and that included cleaning up, it took less than 3 hours.

Note: The pickles should be stored for 2 months prior to eating them, and when you're ready, pop one in the fridge ahead of time.

We harvested nearly a pound of basil leaves, so what should one do? Fresh Basil Pesto, of course.

Fresh Basil Pesto from Diana's kitchen

2 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice (half a small lemon)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Carefully toast the pine nuts in a dry non-stick skillet so as not to burn; set aside and cool.

Combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Slowly add 1/2 cup of olive oil while processing and continue until relatively smooth. Add the grated cheese and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, scrape the sides, and pulse again until blended. Add any additional salt or pepper to taste.

Transfer pesto to an airtight container (i.e. pint jar), drizzle remaining olive oil on top, seal and store in refrigerator until ready to use. It should keep for months.

Note: If you are going to freeze the pesto, it is advised not to add the cheese, but do add the entire amount of olive oil. I like freezing it in these tiny containers with lids that we have saved (repurposed) over the years and are reusable.

Or you can freeze the pesto in ice cube trays with plastic wrap; fill each plastic-lined pocket and freeze; then remove and store in a freezer bag. Add the grated Pecorino-Romano after you defrost and are ready to use.

Then you can make Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta! We like a few extra whole pine nuts and freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese that adds a nice little bite with the pasta.

As for today I must address an abundance of zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, green beans and hot wax peppers. Anyone need any lemon cucumbers?