Updated: Oct 15, 2021
There are sad times approaching in our house for Raffaele as cucumbers are coming to the end of their season. So, we are trying to get him back into courgettes as an alternative, of course very different but similar to look at nonetheless! Stefano's mum makes incredible preserved courgettes in 'agro-dolce', a delightful sweet, vinegar-y solution. Made in the right way they retain their raw crunch. We thought we would make them this year as a fabulous substitute for cucumber in salads, sandwiches or deli boards from now and right through the winter months.
We love the ancient tradition of preserving abundant summer veg, born out of resourcefulness in order to see one through the harder months. It is wonderfully still a commonplace habit in Italy, with a huge variety of produce ripe for the treatment, from the early season asparagus through to berries, artichokes, lemons and tomatoes until the grapes and chestnuts of Autumn and early Winter.
In easier times it was such a delight to walk into Nonna's pantry and select from the array of jars some favourites to bring back home for the months ahead. Fortunately we do have some of her recipes and tips perfected over the years, to try our hands at preserving some of our favourite local organic veggies back here in the UK. Here is the one we have tried this week:
Zucchine all Agrodolce
Before preserving please read up on how to do it safely. There is a guide and links you can follow here We sterilise our jars in the oven and then follow the water-bath canning method using a large deep saucepan with lid, funnel and sets of tongs. If you are working in greater bulk, there are sets you can buy which include a rack and specially designed canning kettle or a pressure canner.
Prepare your jars just before you begin and leave in the hot water until you are ready to fill.
To make one 500ml jar (with a little left over to eat right away!)
250ml cider/white wine vinegar
250 ml water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Sprig of mint roughly chopped
Cut the courgettes into sticks approximately 1cm wide.
Mix your brine ingredients and add to a pan over a medium-low heat.
Stir and bring to the boil.
4. Once boiling add the courgettes and cover with the lid. Cook for no more than 2 minutes, just to very slightly soften then turn off the heat.
5. Remove courgettes with a slotted spoon and tightly pack them into the jar.
6. Ladle the brine in over the top whilst still hot, fill to about 1cm below the top but ensuring the veg is all below the surface of the liquid.
7. Process using the water canning method to keep for up to a year.
8. For shorter term use you can instead just leave the sealed jar covered in a dark place to cure overnight and then keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
9. Always refrigerate the jar once opened and make sure the veg are kept below the surface of the liquid.
The art is in predicting the taste in both the short and long term, so Nonna also always takes notes on the quantities, dates, length of curing and taste of her preserves and has adapted her recipe year on year. Feel free to tweak the liquid mix quantities to your taste, the only rule is that the vinegar should be at least 50% in order to maintain the preserving quality of the brine.
If you wish to explore more recipes, flavours and techniques, we absolutely love the book Preserving Italy by Dominica Marchetti. She also very well covers the food safety considerations when preserving. Happy Experimenting!