Waste is one of the biggest crimes of modern times, and particularly food waste. When you have gone to all the trouble of digging, manuring, digging again, then sowing and watering your own vegetables, and nurturing them into maturity, then the last thing you want to do is waste any of them.
No matter how well you plan to grow the amounts of produce that you actually need, there will always be moments when there are surpluses. This method of preserving deals very well with small surpluses. When I started developing these recipes I had an idea in my head of the use I wanted for the resulting preserve. I wanted cooked vegetables that I could use as either salads as part of a mixed starter, or as the topping for crostini or pizzas, or as the base for a pasta sauce. I love those cooked vegetable salads that the Italians serve as part of antipasti. They are cooked al dente retaining a bit of firmness, and are well flavoured with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and often herbs. Once you get your head around the basic principles of this preservation method and the flavouring you will be able to make your own combinations of ingredients.
Essential equipment for these recipes are jars. I find that as these salads are quite rich containing a large proportion of olive oil I don’t want to use a large amount at once, so save any small jars that come into the house. They need to have a screw top and plastic seal as so many modern jars do. They need to be scrupulously clean and then need sterilizing in a water bath just before use. Don’t be put off by the terminology, they just need to be put in a pan of boiling water with their lids and held there for five minutes.
I am going to start with Aubergine and Red Pepper Salad as this is one of the ingredients that I used in making Mini Chicken Pstilla which is the recipe that I was going to share with you today until I realised that it would be better to give you the salad first. The Pstilla recipe will follow I promise.
4 red peppers
6 large cloves of sweet garlic
300 ml olive oil
large sprig of fresh oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel and coarsely chop the garlic.
Cut the red pepper into small dice.
Get the pan with the jars and lids on to warm. If you haven’t a pan big enough to take them all, start with as many jars as the pan will take and then you can add more once these are used. Don’t worry if they are ready too soon for the salad, you can always turn off the heat for a while and then reboil when needed.
In a pan large enough to take all the ingredients heat the olive oil slowly on a low heat. When it is warm add the garlic and peppers. Stir to cover with oil.
Cut the aubergines into dice about a centimetre square. Add to the pan. You don’t want to cut the aubergines in advance as they have a tendency to discolour and go brown. Stir to mix in.
Season with a good couple of pinches of salt and the chopped oregano leaves and stir again. Cook slowly for about ten minutes.
We are now getting to the tricky part, which is the amount of cooking. If you don’t cook the vegetables enough, they will ferment in the jar, too much cooking and you have a mush. It is a bit trial and error I am afraid. Start to check how cooked the salad is and add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
As soon as the salad is cooked turn off the heat. Drain the jars from the water and fill with the salad while the jars are still hot. Asbestos fingers are a help here. The salad wants to come to about half a centimetre from the top of the jar. Make sure that the rim of the jar is clean, so that you have a good tight seal, before putting on the hot lids. Put the lids on loosely for a minute or two and then tighten up.
Leave to cool totally before washing the jars and labelling. I always check that the jars are well sealed at this point. If the lids have a nipple in the middle you should have heard this ping as the jars were cooling and it should be concave and pulled in. If there is no nipple the lids should still be slightly concave and tight looking. If they are not then use these jars straight away.
Courgette Salad – I made this after returning from a short trip to find that my courgettes had turned into mini-marrows while I was away. Courgettes, peeled and diced, onion chopped small, garlic as above and a couple of peeled and chopped tomatoes. Follow the master recipe above for the method.
Red Pepper Salad – Strips of red peppers slowly stewed in olive oil to just cover and seasoned with salt and lemon juice. Don’t worry about the amount of oil, when you come to use the salad drain off the oil and use it for cooking or salad dressings later.
Artichoke Salad – As you clean and prepare the artichokes put them into water to which a good proportion of lemon juice has been added so that they do not discolour. Drain and stew in olive oil to cover. Season with salt – the lemon is already added.