Quacking from Rappahannock (our blog)

Winter 2020 feeding Pollen Substitute

It is only February 5th and I’ve begun feeding protein/pollen substitute (Dadant AP23). I’ve never fed protein this early before, but the extremely mild winter to date has the bees reproducing in volume and they need protein. I keep bees in Rappahannock County in northern […]

A Favorite Way to Preserve Zucchini

One of my favorite cookbooks is “My Calabria” by Rosetta Constantino with Janet Fletcher. A favorite cookbook is one I want to read, which draws me into the author’s world, tell stories that are relevant to the food it presents, and provides context for recipes. It’s one where I learn techniques or about ingredients or a different way to do something in the kitchen. It’s one to which I go back repeatedly. It’s one from which I use several recipes on a regular basis. “My Calabria” does all of that!

I particularly love the recipe for Zucchini Sott’olio (Zucchini preserved under oil). It’s low key… meaning no need to get the canner out. And it yields jars redolent of summer. Many people do not guess “zucchini” when you serve it to them because the texture is meaty and mushroom-like.

In good years, the zucchini plants in my garden survive the squash bugs’ onslaught and yields lots of fruit. I don’t have to go beg local farms to save me their oversized zucchini, I can let mine grow big. And when I say big, I mean the size of my forearm. Small zucchinis are too delicate for this process and will dissolve in the vinegar bath.

All you need are a few large fresh unblemished zucchinis, salt, vinegar, garlic, herbs and spices for flavoring, and good olive oil. How many zucchini? Depends on you. Once, salted, and somewhat dried, the zucchini loose a lot of moisture (i.e. weight). For me, 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of zucchini yield approximately a pint (500 ml) of sott’olio.

Still, a few words of caution here: this process is not endorsed by the USDA. So… don’t feel comfortable with that? Don’t make it! As for me, I know it’s a technique that has been used along the Mediterranean shores (Calabria, Sicily, Provence, Greece all have similar types of preserves) for centuries, if not millenniums. If carefully done, I believe it’s safe.

How/why does it work? In a nutshell, you remove water from the zucchini by salting them. Once the zucchini have lost moisture and are reasonably dry, they are acidified by being boiled in vinegar. That lowers their pH enough that bacteria can’t survive. Finally, you keep air and molds (and bacteria) out by submerging the food completely in olive oil AT ALL TIMES. It’s a lengthy process, but not a difficult one, and with lots on inactive time. I enjoy it enough to make a few jars every year (even if I have to beg my farmer friends for large zucchinis).

It’s delicious serve on crostinis or polenta cakes or as part of an antipasti platter; or as a relish with any grain: rice, barley, grits…

Rosetta Constantino’s recipe is here. Still, I highly HIGHLY recommend her book. Here’s how I do it:

Day One

  • Only use fresh and unblemished large zucchinis. Cut off the ends, slice lengthwise, Spoon out the spongy inside which surround the seeds (and the seeds), discard or reserve for another use (such as cream-style soup). Slice the halves zucchini in slices about 3/16″ to 1/4 ” thick (4 – 6 mm). Don’t slice too thin or they will dissolve in the vinegar bath.
  • Weigh your zucchini. Use 4 Tablespoons (70g) of salt for every 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of prepared zucchini.
  • In a large non-reactive container, layer the zucchinis and the salt (I like to use a pottery crock, the same one I use to prepare sauerkraut). Toss, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest 8-12 hours, or overnight.

Day 2

  • Drain the zucchini in a non-reactive colander. Take handfuls, and press with hard your hands to remove liquid. Put the squeezed zucchini in a large non reactive pans. Add 3 cups (750 ml) of vinegar mixed with 1 cup (250 ml) water (I use white vinegar, but Rosetta calls for white wine vinegar). Gently press on the zucchini to ensure they are mostly under vinegar. Gently bring to boil, stirring occasionally so that the slices at the top also get well immersed in vinegar. Boil gently for 5 minutes, but watch. You want the slices to remain whole.
  • Drain in a non-reactive colander with a weight (such as a large bowl or pot filled with water) to help squeeze liquid out of the zucchinis. Let rest for 1 hr or so with the weight on top.
  • Put several layers of clean kitchen towels on top of wooden boards and spread the zucchini slices, not overlapping.

Day 2-4

  • Let the zucchini dry out at room temperature. Once a day turn them and change the top towel which will have absorbed some moisture. Do this until the zucchinis have considerably shriveled, and no longer feel damp, 24-48 hrs depending on the ambient conditions. (alternatively you could use a dehydrator on low for an hour or two)
  • Meanwhile thinly slice 5 cloves of fresh plump garlic (for 5 lbs of zucchini) and cover them with vinegar.

Day 3 (or 4)

  • In a large bowl, toss the zucchini slices, the drained garlic slivers, Cayenne or crushed hot pepper flakes and herbs/spices together with just a little extra virgin olive oil. Let rest, covered for up to 4 hours. Rosetta uses mint which is delightful. Other herbs/spices possibilities are:
    • nepitella
    • cumin, coriander & oregano
    • fresh ginger and turmeric, thinly sliced or minced (and soaked in vinegar first for a few hours)
    • rosemary & sumac
  • While the mix is resting, sterilize a few pint jars (5 lbs of prepared zucchinis will fill 1-2 pint jars depending how much drying occurred)
  • Put a little bit of olive oil at the bottom of the jar and fill them with zucchini slices, packing well by pressing with a spoon or fork to remove any air gap. As you go add a little olive oil and keep pressing the slices to 1 inch from the top of the jar (2.5 cm). Then pour 1/4″-1/2″ inch of oil (1-1.25 cm) on top to ensure all the slices are completely covered in oil. Seal, label and date, and refrigerate (or put in a cold cellar).
  • Let rest at least 2 weeks before using to allow the flavors to meld. Remove from the fridge an hour or two before you plan to use so the oil liquefies to room temperature. When you are done, pack down the remaining slices, add more olive oil if needed to completely cover them and refrigerate.

The jars should remain good – if refrigerated with the zucchini well packed and completely submerged in oil – for 6 to 9 months. Any left-over olive oil from the jars can be used for salad dressing or cooking.

2019 Honey Harvest

Laughing Duck Gardens in Washington, Virginia. Rappahannock Arboreal Honey Facts and a Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet Jump to Batches Scroll to bottom for Batches 2019 is shaping up to be a very intense year for honey. Winter ended mild with no late frost; temperatures and rainfall for […]

Strawberry Mousse Forever

Strawberry Mousse Forever

The strawberry mousse is one of of those desserts that is so simple, so utterly reliant on the goodness of strawberries that it is either spectacular… or a total let down when made with sub-par strawberries. In which latter case, no doctoring can make it […]

Roasted Strawberry Ice-cream

Roasted Strawberry Ice-cream

I picked 42 lbs of strawberries at Green Truck Farms earlier this week. Granted 10 lbs went to Chef John MacPhearson and his hyper seasonal and really excellent restaurant Three Blacksmiths, and 4 lbs went to friends. That still leaves me 28 lbs. 10 lbs went to jam for the newly formed Jam Club, 12 lbs went to the freezer, and the rest we are eating fresh, in mousse, or ice-cream.

Lately I have been craving ice-creams that are more gelato-like with lots of fruit flavors. So I have toned down the cream in my go-to-Philadelphia style ice-cream, and roasted the strawberries to bring out more flavors. They are very good strawberries, much better than anything you can buy in the store because they were picked ripe and are being used within a few days. Still, they are the “Chandler” variety, one rated for “good” flavor not for “excellent” flavor, for high yield and for vigor, able to resist rain damages. But flavor wise, they are inferior to an EarliGlow or a Rutger’s Scarlet or a Sweet Charlie — all of which are more fragile and therefore harder to find in commercial operations or pick-your-own. So I roasted the Chandler strawberries which concentrates the flavors. It’s a trick that you can use with many other fruit whose flavor is not quite there. But pay attention: if there no flavor to start, roasting WILL NOT HELP!

The recipe has only 4 ingredients: strawberry, cream, sugar & honey. Make sure they are the best you can afford. Do not bother making it with supermarket strawberries. Seriously. Once you have the strawberries, it’s a very straightforward recipe.

Roasted Strawberry Ice-Cream

  • 2 quarts ripe local strawberries (1 kg) +/-
  • 1/2 cup sugar (100 g)
  • 2 Tablespoons honey (30 ml)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
  1. Wash, hull strawberries and spread in a non-reactive baking dish. Cook in a 250F (120C) oven for 1.5 to 2 hrs. They will be very soft, dull red and will have given up some juice. Remove from oven and chill.
  2. Puree strawberries and juice in blender until very smooth. Keep 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) for the recipe and save the rest for another use. Add sugar & honey to the 2 1/2 cup strawberry puree in blender, and process until sugar is well incorporated. Add cream and blend until just mixed.
  3. Process in ice-cream maker.
  4. Enjoy

Yields about 1 quart ice-cream

Le Temps Des Conserves (My preservation calendar)

I am fairly serious about preserving food. In fact a few years ago, there was an article about me in the local newspaper.  Kay Beatty wrote it and took the pictures. There is a rhythm to it, throughout the year. One does not built a […]

It snows in March

It snows in March

We are all tired of the grayness and wetness that has been our unusual lot in the Virginia northern Piedmont over the last year. Our winter has not been particularly cold, the temperatures dipped below 10F ( -12C) only a few times, and briefly at […]

Chilled Sorrel Soup

Chilled Sorrel Soup

French (or garden) sorrel is a super hardy perennial potherb with a bright pleasant tartness. It grows in my unheated hoop house even in the harshest  winters providing refreshingly tart leaves for our winter salads. It is one of the first vegetables I harvest outside: it sends bright green leaves up in mid to late March, dislikes summer heat (unless provided with shade), and comes back in the cooler fall. I have written about how to grow sorrel here.

Sorrel’s acidity livens up green salads,omelets, and potato salads. When the clumps really fatten in March or April with lots of big leaves (and really as long as the leaves are healthy often through June), I make this creamy leek and potato soup. Sorrel is added at the last minute (use as much as you like) to produce a soup the color of a Granny Smith apple. Reheated or cooked, it will turn a darker green similar to a spinach soup—still good, but not as surprising to the eye.

Chilled Sorrel Soup

SERVES 4 TO 6 AS A LIGHT MAIN DISH

  • 1 pound leeks, roots and very dark green parts trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 pound potatoes, scrubbed clean of dirt and trimmed (peeling optional)
  • 1 ½ to 2 quarts good-quality chicken broth
  • 2 to 4 cups shredded green sorrel (hard center stem removed, if any)
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • baby herbs and edible flowers for garnishes (such as chives, violas, cilantro, kale, primroses, redbuds, bachelor’s button, borage…)

Slice and wash the leeks well by swashing them around in a bowl of water. Lift them out of the water (so any grits remain in the water) and drain.

Heat a Dutch oven on medium heat, add the butter, add the leeks, lower the heat, and cook them slowly, stirring occasionally to make t hem “sweat.” They should not color at all, just become limp. If they start to color, lower the heat more, stir and add a little butter or water. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, dice potatoes. Then add them to the softened leeks. Add one quart broth. Bring to a boil. Cover, and lower the heat. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Purée the soup using an immersion blender, or transfer soup to a blender in small batches to avoid hot overspills, and process until smooth. Use additional broth as necessary to purée and thin to your desired consistency. Chill.

Pour soup back in blender. Add the shredded sorrel, a cup at a time,  and puree until smooth. Taste until you have reached a pleasantly tart taste and a nice bright green color. (I like a ratio of 1 cup of packed shredded sorrel to 2 cups of soup).

Salt & peppers to taste. Pour into bowls and garnish withe the herbs and flowers.

2018  Honey Harvest

2018 Honey Harvest

Laughing Duck Gardens in Washington, Virginia. [by Keith Rowand] Rappahannock Arboreal Honey Facts and a Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet Jump to Batches Scroll to bottom for Batches 2017 might have been a special year for honey; our harvest was about 900 pounds for 30 colonies. In 2018, […]