On Friday night I decided to stay in and can beets. Beets. Pickled beets. Not a record breaker for the sexiest use of time. I like the sound of ‘putting up’ though, an old-timey idiom. A practice of preservation, and thrift. (Again, not the sexiest thing I’ve said. Let’s move on.)
I’m hoping to have beets for you soon, but for now I thought I’d bring up a much less labor-intensive recipe. Pickled asparagus. Adapted from Kevin West—Master Food Preserver—from his new book, Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving which comes out just in time for the start of summer.
To say I adapted the recipe is really not fair. The original was titled Pickled Asparagus with Tarragon and Green Garlic. Except I didn’t have tarragon. Or green garlic. Or the temperament to fuss with Ball jars and a hot water bath on a Monday night.
So really, this is a distant, distant relative to the original. I still used asparagus (grown from my grandmother’s garden, imported by my dad a few weeks ago) and the same proportion of vinegar, salt, and sugar. If that counts for something.
Never mind. These pickles are a fresh spring stand-in for the classic Vlasic. They’re sour, and crunchy, and have enough acid to let you know they’re a pickle. They’d be a fabulous addition to a niçoise salad.
Or in a banh mi. Or chopped up in one of those pasta salads with salami and tri-color rotini that scream summer cookout. Or added to your favorite potato number, mayo-ed or otherwise. Point is, they are doers, multi-taskers, pickled workhorses.
And since they cure in the refrigerator, they aren’t going to usurp a precious Friday night. The beets will be ready to taste this weekend. And if their pickling liquid is any indication, they are going to be doozies, as well.
And so it shall be. The summer of pickle.
Picked Asparagus Spears
Inspired by Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West
1½ pounds of asparagus
1½ cups white distilled vinegar
1½ cups water
1½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp white peppercorns
½ tsp juniper berries
½ tsp fennel seed
½ tsp whole coriander
½ tsp mustard seed
3 springs oregano
2 garlic cloves
In a large pot, heat enough water to blanch the asparagus. In a medium saucepan, add the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and spices (all except the garlic) and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, snap the bottom third end off each asparagus stalk by bending it until it breaks; discard the ends. Prepare a bowl of ice water large enough to fit the asparagus.
Salt the boiling blanching water and place the asparagus in for 60-90 seconds, until pliable but still firm. Remove the asparagus with tongs and place in ice water to halt the cooking. Drain the asparagus and then pack the stalks in a jar(s). I used one tall 32-ounce cylindrical Weck jar. (If you have smaller jars you may need to trim the asparagus; you should do this prior to blanching.) Place the garlic in between the spears.
Pull out the oregano and bring the pickling liquid back to a boil; carefully ladle it over the asparagus. Securely cover and chill in the refrigerator for a week before eating.
Makes about 20-30 pickled asparagus spears, depending on the size
-West has very detailed instructions for canning this and other pickled recipes, so be sure to check it out if pickles and putting up are your thing.
-West called for white-wine vinegar, which is smoother and his go-to vinegar when pickling. I didn't have that either, so I used distilled white vinegar. You could consider upping the sugar context if you will be pickling in your fridge and plan on using distilled white vinegar, to round out the flavor a bit.