Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 26, 2010

Foodie with Family: Garden of Delights

Cucumbers turn into garlicky pickles

By REBECCA LINDAMOOD
Local columnist

— I wandered out to the garden to check on progress one steamy morning last week, not expecting to see anything other than a nice bunch of leaves, healthy stalks and a few blossoms. I carefully moved a spike-covered cucumber plant and got the shock of my life; cucumbers had arrived early. Very early. There were a lot of them. And cucumbers wait for no man. It was time to pickle.

After a quick detour back to the house to fetch a colander and some gardening gloves, I skipped back to the cucumber plants. Accompanying me was my pickle hound of a 6-year-old who ran at top speed yelling, "Pickles! We grew pickles! This is the happiest day of my life!" The colander didn't cut it. We had to go back to the shed for a peck box. Then another one. I ended up with close to a bushel of cucumbers that day.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cucumber on the vine is in search of a good pickle recipe. I have a great one. While it is a pickle that is easy enough for a novice canner, it is one that is so full of complex flavor that it is satisfying enough for a veteran canner. Garlicky, briny and crisp; the Gobs of Garlic pickles are a mainstay of our pantry.

One of the keys to good pickles is to make and process the pickles as soon as possible from the moment they are picked. No matter how hot a day is (and that one was nearly 100 degrees) you need to act quickly. I spent a couple hours that afternoon putting up pickles. While it is not a difficult or complicated task it does heat up a kitchen pretty effectively. By the time I had turned off the flame under the canner my tolerance for standing in a sauna-like kitchen had pretty well been exhausted.

Mercifully, while we're making like the industrious ant putting up food for the winter, this is the best time of year for simple, last-minute meals. Bountiful produce is the backbone of meals that practically make themselves. After a hot day of work both inside and out, a light meal before settling down for the evening is just what the doctor ordered. This one is spectacular.

Garden Fresh Pesto Bruschetta topping is a flavorful blend of chopped tomatoes, olives, garlic, basil and parsley. If you have other goodies bursting forth from your garden you can add those in as well: zucchini and summer squash, among other vegetables, would be a welcome addition to the mix. While I prefer to serve this with bread to sop up the accumulated juices at the bottom of the dish, it is equally good tossed with freshly cooked pasta. My favorite accompaniment for it is my quick Grilled Bread with a subtle hint of garlic and Italian herbs cooked right into it.

If your garden isn't going gangbusters just yet, you can still grill up this bread and serve it with a dish of olive oil seasoned with kosher salt, pepper, garlic and chopped fresh basil.

Garden Fresh Pesto Bruschetta Topping

5-6 small to medium tomatoes (or 3 c. cherry tomatoes, halved)

1 c. packed fresh basil leaves

¼ c. loosely packed fresh parsley

4 ozs. fresh mozzarella, cubed

½ c. finely diced sweet onion

½ c. garlic stuffed or plain pitted Kalamata olives

1 clove garlic, peeled

3 T. extra virgin olive oil

1-2 T. red wine vinegar, to taste

1 t. kosher or other coarse salt

Additional salt and pepper to taste

Cut tomatoes in half. Using your hands or a spoon, remove the seeds and core from the tomatoes. Roughly chop into pieces that are about ¼ to ½ inch at their largest point. Transfer to a bowl.

Stack the basil leaves and slice very thinly. (This is a chiffonade of basil.) Slice the garlic clove and olives and lay on top of the basil chiffonade. Lay the parsley on top of the pile and sprinkle with one teaspoon of Kosher or other coarse salt. Roughly chop through the herb pile until the garlic is finely chopped. Scrape onto the tomatoes in the bowl, then add the diced onion, olive oil and red wine vinegar and toss to coat completely. Stir in the fresh mozzarella cubes and cover tightly. Allow the bruschetta topping to sit at room temperature for an hour before using. This can be tossed with freshly cooked pasta or served on bread. We like ours with ...

Grilled Bread

Scant 1 T. instant yeast or one packet active dry yeast

Pinch granulated sugar

¾ c. very warm (not hot) water

1&¾ c. all-purpose flour

½ t. salt

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 t. minced fresh garlic or ½ teaspoon granulated garlic

1 t. Italian seasonings

Additional olive oil for brushing

In a mixing bowl, combine yeast, water and the pinch of sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes it should be foamy and puffy looking.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt, then pour all at once into the wet ingredients. Stir well until a shaggy but cohesive dough is formed, adding more flour one tablespoon at a time, if needed.

Flour a work surface and knead dough for a couple of minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Allow the dough to rise for 15 minutes.

Preheat one half of the grill to high and another to medium-low. (For a charcoal grill, make a hot bed of coals over to one side of the grill.) While the grill is getting hot, generously oil the back of a cookie sheet. Use your hands to stretch and spread the bread dough over the back of the pan. The bread dough should be no more than a half of an inch thick. It may take a couple tries to get the dough stretched as thinly as it needs to be. If it is fighting you, let it rest for a couple minutes so the gluten can relax and try again.

When it is thin enough, liberally oil the cooking rack on the grill. Transfer the dough to the hottest part of the grill. This is done most easily wearing oven mitts; flip the pan over on top of the cooking rack then remove the pan. If it is oiled enough, the pan should pull right away after the dough is on the rack.

Close the lid to the grill and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the dough is firm enough on the bottom to lift without flopping when a spatula is slid under it. Brush the topside of the dough with more olive oil then use a spatula to flip the dough onto the cooler side of the grill. Close the lid again and cook an additional 2-5 minutes, or until the dough has grill marks and is easily lifted with a spatula. Transfer to a waiting plate or sheet pan and cover lightly with foil. Allow the bread to cool before breaking or cutting into wedges or squares.

Gobs of Garlic Dill Pickles

Ingredients per quart:

5-9 midsized pickling cucumbers

1 T. dried dill seed (or three heads fresh dill)

1-4 cloves garlic, peeled, according to taste

½ bay leaf, crumbled

12 whole black peppercorns

¼ t. whole yellow mustard seed

⅛ to ½ t. crushed red pepper flakes, depending on heat tolerance

Brine

6 c. cider vinegar

12 c. water

1¼ c. kosher salt or pickling salt (Do not use iodized salt!)

Prepare and sterilize your quart jars and rings. Prepare the lids. Set aside.

Remove about 1/16 of an inch of the blossom end of each cucumber. Cut to fit into the jars if necessary. Pack the jars with cucumbers, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Add the spices to each jar. Set aside.

In a large stainless steel (or other non-reactive pan) combine the ingredients for the brine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Use a ladle to pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers and spices, maintaining the ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles from the jar by inserting a thin rubber spatula or chopstick down the sides of the jars and adjust brine level if necessary.

Use a damp towel to wipe the rims of the jars. Position the lids on the jars and screw the rings on to fingertip tight. Place jars in the canner and cover completely with water by at least one inch. Place the lid on the canner and bring to a boil. As soon as the water reaches a boil, begin timing for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the lid to the canner, turn off the heat and wait for 5 minutes then remove jars to a cooling rack or a towel lined countertop. Let cool undisturbed overnight. Wipe clean, label, and store for at least 6 weeks prior to eating. These pickles will store well for at least a year when kept in a cool, dry, dark place.

For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com or Rebecca's new blog, www.icouldeatthat.com. Write to Rebecca at rebecca@foodiewithfamily.com to share your adventures and favorite recipes. For more of Rebecca's Record-Eagle columns, log on to record-eagle.com/rebeccalindamood.