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COOKING

Fast-Track Pickles

From sweet-and-spicy peaches to fiery jalapenos, these quick treats are cool additions to lazy summer meals.


(Photo by Jim Scherer)

Pickling can be a process as lengthy and involved or as streamlined and simple as you choose. Never known for my patience, I choose the latter. Quick or refrigerator pickles are ready to eat within hours, though the flavor does improve over the first day or two. Vinegar provides the hallmark sour taste, and these treats are neither fermented nor "put up," so to prevent them from spoiling, they must be kept in the fridge.

Aside from near instant gratification, another joy of quick pickles is their playful nature. Old fashioned, deli-style, solid citizen pickles - the kind that are fermented for weeks to develop their flavor - offer limited choices, garlicky dills and half-sours chief among them. Quick pickles, on the other hand, take well to just about any flavor you might want to add. Do you like things sweet? Use some sugar or maple syrup. Different vinegars, a little bit of booze (such as the bourbon in our peaches), spices such as cinnamon, cloves, star anise, or mustard seed, and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, fennel, or coriander can all give your quick pickles big flavor with a personal twist.

GIARDINIERE - MIXED GARDEN PICKLES, ITALIAN STYLE
MAKES ABOUT 8 CUPS

Don't feel locked into the vegetables listed here. Use any combination so long as it totals 8 cups. This recipe is adapted from Quick Pickles: Easy Recipes With Big Flavor, by Chris Schlesinger, John Willoughby, and Dan George (Chronicle Books, 2001).

3 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt, preferably kosher
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
6 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
7 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 small head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
3/4 pound haricots verts or green beans, ends trimmed, if desired
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut lengthwise into strips
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise into
4-inch sticks
1 cup small shallots, peeled and left whole

In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary and bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large, nonreactive bowl combine garlic, cauliflower, beans, bell pepper, carrots, and shallots. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the vegetables and stir. Let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until vegetables have absorbed the flavors of the pickling mixture, at least 4 hours. The giardiniere will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 4 weeks.

MAPLE PICKLED JALAPENOS
MAKES ABOUT 3 CUPS

You'll need an old-fashioned vegetable peeler with an unobstructed swiveling blade to make these pickled chilies. This recipe is adapted from one of the best cooks I know, Kay Rentschler, who, with her husband, Glenn Roberts, runs Anson Mills (ansonmills.com), growers and millers of organic heirloom corn, rice, and other grains in South Carolina.

1 quart water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 pound large, firm, glossy jalapeno or Fresno chilies, or a combination
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup maple syrup, preferably grade B
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced crosswise very thinly
1/2 lemon, cut lengthwise into quarters, seeds removed, and each quarter cut crosswise into thin slices

In a medium bowl, mix the water and 1 tablespoon salt, stirring to dissolve salt. Using a sharp paring knife, trim ends off the jalapenos. Use the blade of a vegetable peeler to extract the core, seeds, and membrane from the chilies. Slice the seeded chilies into 1/4-inch rounds, dropping them into the salted water as you go.

In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, syrup, 1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves, and coriander and mustard seeds and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and simmer to blend flavors and reduce the mixture slightly, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the sliced jalapenos and transfer them to a medium, nonreactive bowl. Add garlic and lemon, pour the hot vinegar mixture over the chilies, and mix. Push chilies down into the liquid so they are fully submerged, let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate at least 48 hours. Jalapenos will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 4 weeks.

SPICED PICKLED PEACHES WITH BOURBON
MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS

Peaches that are a day or two from being perfectly ripe will hold their shape well. Vary the amount of bourbon according to your taste for a mild or strong flavor. This recipe is also adapted from Quick Pickles.

1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup orange juice
2/3 cup light brown sugar Pinch salt
1 teaspoon whole allspice or 2 sticks cinnamon
8 whole cloves
2 1/2 pounds yellow peaches (about 5 large or 6 medium), preferably freestone, peeled and cut into 11/2-inch slices
1/2 to 2/3 cup bourbon

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine vinegar, orange juice, brown sugar, salt, allspice or cinnamon, and cloves and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until just warm.

Place peaches in a large, nonreactive bowl, add vinegar mixture and bourbon, and cover and refrigerate until peaches have absorbed the flavors of the pickling mixture, at least 4 hours, though flavor improves over the first 48 hours. Peaches will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 2 weeks.

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