A pot of pickled vegetables is useful to have in the fridge. The pickles – carrot, cucumber, radish, maybe some strips of cabbage – but also the pickle juice itself, the astringent potion of vinegar and spice.
I make my own refrigerator pickles, though not all the time. It gives the opportunity to increase the salt or decrease the sugar as you wish. (We are not talking long-term storage here.) You can use allspice instead of juniper, mustard seeds in place of coriander, and lead the pickling liquor in whatever direction you choose – east (star anise and clove), south (chillies and garlic) or north (juniper and dill). I also include ready-made sauerkraut in mine, too.
The juice is what you need (just a tablespoon or so) to introduce life to rescue a cream sauce from cloying or to lift the spirits of a salad dressing. The pickle itself is for so much more than sitting aside a wedge of pork pie. I like to spoon it over the blackened skin of a grilled mackerel fillet – the crisp, smoky skin with the vinegar is sensational; fold the pickles and juice into a salad of artichoke bottoms, parsley and watercress or tuck it untidily between the layers of a toasted sandwich.
This is the season of the sandwich. If I can slap my lunch between two slices of bread and eat it in the open air, then I will. There will be sandwiches of cold salmon and cucumber; crushed avocado and mozzarella; tomato and grilled aubergine or ham with fried potatoes. Each and every one of them benefiting from a spoonful of homemade pickle – crisp, sharp and bright.
Summer pickled vegetables
The jars should be sterilised if you want to keep the pickle for any length of time. Pour boiling water into them after washing, or warm them in the oven. Pack the jars full, with the liquor coming to the top.
Makes 2 medium Kilner jars.
cucumber 1 small
shallot 1 large
carrot 1 medium
sauerkraut 6 heaped tbsp
For the pickle:
white wine vinegar 6 tbsp
cider vinegar 6 tbsp
malt vinegar 5 tbsp
fennel seeds 2 tsp
black peppercorns 15
juniper berries 8
caster sugar 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp
Peel the cucumber, then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the core and its seeds with a teaspoon and discard.
Cut the cucumber into 1cm-thick slices and put them in a large bowl. Peel the shallot, slice into thin rounds and add to the cucumber. Scrub the carrot then, using a potato peeler, shave into long ribbons. Add these to the bowl, then thinly slice and add the radishes and sauerkraut.
In a small, stainless-steel saucepan mix together the vinegars, fennel seeds, peppercorns and juniper berries. Add the sugar and salt and place over a moderate heat. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Pour the hot pickling liquor over the vegetables and toss gently together.
Transfer to clean, sterilised storage jars, seal and refrigerate overnight.
Cheese and pickle mustard-butter sandwiches
Brushing with mustard butter before grilling gives a crispness and delicious piquancy to the bread. It also makes the surface brown more quickly, so it is worth keeping a sharp eye on the bread’s progress as it cooks. A small ridged griddle pan is ideal, but a frying pan is fine, too. Press it firmly down against the hot metal to get a crisper finish.
Makes 2 sandwiches
summer vegetable pickle 4 tbsp (see recipe above)
sourdough bread 4 slices
dijon mustard 1 tsp
Coarsely grate the fontina. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the mustard; don’t worry if it doesn’t mix perfectly. Brush both sides of the bread with the mustard butter.
Heat a griddle pan or frying pan. Divide the cheese between 2 of the slices of bread. Drain the pickle, then spoon it on top of the cheese, place the reserved pieces of bread on top and press down firmly. Put the sandwiches on the griddle or in the pan and press down firmly with a palette knife or a weight.
When the underside of the sandwich is golden, turn and cook the other side. When the cheese softens and the bread is golden brown, eat immediately.
Guacamole, pickle and mozzarella bagel
I prefer avocado that is not too ripe. The pickle juice slices through the oily flesh and also keeps its colour bright.
red chilli 1, small
grain mustard 2 tsp
coriander leaves a small handful
lime juice of ½
olive oil 1 tbsp
mozzarella 1 x 200g ball
summer vegetable pickle 8 tbsp (see recipe above)
Halve, stone and peel the avocados. Put the flesh into a bowl, then crush it with a fork. Finely chop the chilli and add to the bowl. Stir in the mustard, coriander leaves, lime juice and olive oil to give a thick, mustard-seed-freckled cream.
Split the bagels in half and toast the cut side under a hot grill, or in a toaster until lightly crisp. Tear the mozzarella into large, irregular pieces and place on the bottom half of the toasted bagels. Spread generously with the avocado cream. Spoon the pickle on top and place the other half of bagel on top and serve.