I’ve been experimenting with pickles, using olive oil to give finish and smoothness to what are often sharp, acerbic flavors. My grandmother Harmon’s sour cucumber pickle recipe calls for cider vinegar cut with water in a ratio of 4:1, plus, for a gallon of vinegar, a cup of salt, a cup of dry mustard, and a “nut-sized” lump of alum. Not for nothing were those old Yankees called vinegary.
So my pickled peppers, I hoped, would be a lot more civilized and indeed they are. Here’s the recipe:
Pickled Peppers in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
You could make this with chili peppers (serrano, jalapeño, etc.) if you wish, or with all sweet Bell-style peppers, including the long skinny pale green ones that are often labeled Italian or Cuban. Or, for greater interest—and a greater challenge to diners—make them with a mixture of hot and sweet.
This makes 2 quarts, and I think the peppers mature better in quart jars rather than trying to squeze them into smaller pint jars. Be sure to have your glass jars and their lids scrupulously cleaned, either by running them through the dish washer just before using or by boiling the empty jars and lids for 10 minutes or so in a big pan of water.
- 2 pounds fresh peppers
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cup of water
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons unrefined sugar
- 2 tablespoons pickling salt or un-iodized sea salt
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 ½ cups olive oil
- 8 or 10 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
Wash the peppers and core them, removing the stems. The peppers can be pickled whole, or you can cut them in halves lengthwise, or slice them in rounds about ½ inch thick. Don’t worry about getting all the seeds out.
In a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves and oil. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes at a slow steady simmer. Do not let the pickling mix come to a rolling boil.
Add the prepared peppers and stir to mix well. Raise the heat and boil vigorously for 3 minutes, stirring and turning the peppers in the pickling mix so that all the pieces come in contact with the boiling liquid. Continue boiling another 2 minutes, then remove the peppers with tongs or a slotted spoon and set them on a rack over a tray.
Turn the heat down under the pickling liquid, add the garlic to the pan, and let simmer gently for 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Pack the peppers in the glass canning jars. Distribute the bay leaves and the garlic cloves between the two jars. Add the hot pickling liquid to the jars—you should have enough to fill each jar to within ¼ inch of the top. If you don’t have enough liquid to do this, finish off the jars with a little more olive oil.
Screw on the lids, but don’t tighten them completely, just enough so you can pick a jar up by its lid without dropping it (careful!). Set the jars in a large kettle and fill with water to come just below the rims of the jars. If you’re worried about the jars banging around in the kettle, fit some kitchen towels into the bottom to protect them. Cover the kettle, bring the water to a boil, and boil the filled jars for 10 minutes. (This is what is meant by “processing.”) At the end of the time, turn the heat off and leave the jars in the kettle to cool down until you can handle them. Remove and set on a wooden counter top until you hear the ping or click that indicates the jars have sealed. Then screw the tops down tight. If a lid doesn’t ping, it’s fine but it won’t keep so long and the jar should be refrigerated. Fully sealed jars should keep up to a year.
In any case, the pickles will be best after six weeks of maturing on a shelf in a cool, dark pantry.