Your cupboards are full…
Cooking slow food in a hurry— thanks to last season’s preserves!
By Jordan Champagne Illustration by Jae Nelson
It is the time of year when our choice of fresh, local fruits and vegetables is relatively limited, yet spring blossoms remind us of all the summer fruits to come. In their unfolding petals, you can see the juicy promise of summer’s diversity of amazing flavors and colors. But it is also the time of year when we can turn to our overflowing cupboards and rejoice! While the peak harvest season is still far off, our jars of pickles and preserves still contain last summer’s sun—the product of our forethought and hard work preparing for this time of scarcity.
The food that we have preserved in jars will be safe to eat as long as the seal is good and strong. Public health authorities have performed tests on jars that are 35 years old and found the food inside to be perfectly safe to eat.
I always recommend that it’s best to eat preserves within one year of making them, as after a year, the color can darken, the texture can become soft and the flavor may fade.
Like many of my favorite rules, there are many exceptions: A jar of lemon marmalade, for example, will likely taste and look the same several years from when it was made.
But generally, the one-year guideline means that spring is your time to really dig into the cupboards, finish opening those jars and be creative with what lies within! Using the preserves now will inspire you to try new ideas, recipes and techniques this year, and it will free up space in your jars and cupboards for the new season’s bounty. Jars and rings may be reused for decades, but remember, it is recommended to use a new lid each time you put a jar in a hot water bath to ensure a good seal and safe preserves.
A lot of people unleash their enthusiasm and creativity in first making their preserved goods and then get stuck when trying to use what they’ve created. The jars can get buried in cupboards and refrig- erators and can really pile up. So challenge yourself to use at least one jar from your stash every day this spring! You’ll find that they allow you to cook a slow food meal in a hurry because you’ve done all the heavy work ahead of time!
You can use your sweet preserves in many ways. I pour an entire jar of honeyed oranges in a large pot of oatmeal for a houseful of guests or to last my family for the week. Jams and marmalades can also be used to make a sweet-and-sour dressing or glaze, or in a morning fruit salad with yogurt and nuts. They can be added to smoothies or a vegetable sauté.Tryapricotorplumjaminakalesaladorlimemarmalade in a sweet-and-sour vegetable sauté over rice.
Pickles are one of the easiest preserves to consume. Whenever I have a houseful of guests or kids, I put out a jar of pickles in a dish and they magically disappear. The juice can be saved to add to equal parts olive oil for a dressing. Pickles are the perfect item to bring to a potluck—even if they are a strange batch of, say, pickled turnips with Jerusalem artichokes, they will become a conversation piece. You can add pickled carrots to black beans for a soup or to tacos. Try pickled beets in borscht. If you still have jars of pickled cucumbers left, then you have a great gift or item to sell, as most of us do not make enough and they are in high demand in spring.
The lockdown on preserved tomatoes should also be loosened this time of year. Fresh, local field-grown tomatoes are still a ways off, but once the diversity of summers fruits and vegetables is upon us, our preserved tomatoes become less of a coveted item. Crack open your jars of salsa and spicy tomato juice and use your preserved tomatoes to make the best tomato soup ever, just adding a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Use your pickled tomatoes whole on bruschetta or in salads.
I have presented enough recipes for a whole meal to get you started. Now is the time to get inventive and use your preserved goods with abandon. Have fun spreading summer’s sunshine!
Jordan Champagne is the co-owner and founder of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. She has a passion for preserving the local, organic harvest and loves sharing her secrets at the workshops she teaches across our region.
RECIPES: See www.ediblemontereybay.com/recipes for Russian Style Beet Salad, Pickled Green Bean Three-Bean Salad and Jam Thumbprint Cookies.
Courtesy Jordan Champagne, Happy Girl Kitchen Co., Pacific Grove
This is a fun twist on traditional lasagna. The preserved tomatoes make the sauce so delicious and fresh!
11⁄2 cups polenta
1⁄2 pound spinach and other vegetables, if desired, chopped 1 jar crushed heirloom tomatoes (you’ll be happy you tucked them in jars)
Herbs from the garden
1⁄2 pound Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella or Parmesan, grated
Begin by cooking the polenta. Combine 11⁄2 cups of polenta to 3 cups of water in a pan and cook for 20 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning.
For cooked-down tomato sauce, this trick will take hours off of the cook time. Pour the entire contents of the jar of crushed heirloom tomatoes into a pan. As soon as it begins to simmer, pour it through a strainer and save the juice (called tomato water in Italy) for a later project (like Spanish Rice, but that is another recipe). Now, you have just strained off hours of cooking down your tomatoes rather than evaporating the liquid.
Blend the contents using your preferred method (blender, food processor or, my can’t-live-without tool, an immersion blender) and add back to the pan. Add fresh or dried herbs of any combination (I prefer the blend to be oregano heavy for this recipe). Add a splash of olive oil and salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to simmer to desired consistency (about 15 minutes).
Next, finely chop 1⁄2 pound of spinach and any other vegetables you desire. A stir fry of Shiitake mushrooms, garlic and onions would be nice. Then massage the 1⁄2 pound of Ricotta cheese into the vegetables. With these three preparations ready, let the layering begin.
Place a flat, about 1-inch-thick layer of polenta on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Add a layer of the cheese-spinach mixture. Add the lovely sauce and another layer of polenta. Add one last layer of sauce and top with grated Mozzarella or Parmesan. Cover and bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for 10 more minutes. Enjoy every bite!