In order to preserve most food it is important to control the main elements promoting bacterial growth: water and air. The traditional Italian method of preserving vegetables sott’olio (under oil) is ingenious really. First the vegetables are thinly sliced and salted. The salt draws out their water. The next day the vegetables are rinsed and then either blanched or soaked again overnight in vinegar. The vinegar replaces the lost water and rehydrates the vegetables but it also helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. The vegetables are rinsed the next day again, squeezed very dry in a clean kitchen towel and tossed in extra virgin olive oil before being packed tighly in jars under more oil. The oil keeps the air from contacting the vegetable and further prohibits bacteria growth. Take care with the drying, it is extremely important the zucchini are bone dry when they go into their jars.
At La Petraia we preserve cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli rabe and eggplant either in oil or in vinegar. We use our own wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. If you have a garden with a glut of zucchini try this recipe. It is surprisingly easy, and always nice to have a jar or two in the fridge. We serve zucchini sott’olio alongside our house cured salumi as an antipasto. Or we pile some on our pork and lamb meatballs and secure them with a rosemary sprig.
You will need
Zucchini (about 2 kg fills one Japanese pickle press)
Sea salt (a handful)
White wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oi
Minced garlic and fresh mint leaves
Japanese pickle press, sauerkraut crock or other vessel suitable for pressing pickles
Sterilized jars for canning
Use a mandolin if you own one and thinly slice the zucchini. Salt them generously and place them in the pickle press and give the screw on the press one turn. Let the zucchini sit until you see some water accumulating in the bottom of the press, about 20 minutes, and then screw the press down again. Continue this way until the press has been screwed down as far as it can go. Let sit overnight. The next day rinse and drain the zucchini. Now it is decision time, blanch or soak?.
Soak for a raw sott’ olio with a short shelf life: If you want to make a raw sott’ olio that will keep in the fridge for a week or so then return the zucchini to the press. Cover with vinegar and clamp on the press. This time it does not have to be screwed down completely, it is just important that the zucchini are completely submerged in vinegar. Let sit again overnight.
The next morning, rinse and drain the zucchini and then squeeze them completely dry in clean kitchen towels. Toss the dried zucchini slices in a bowl with the best EVO you can afford, the mint and the garlic. Pour a little EVO in the bottom of each sterilized jar before packing them tightly with the zucchini. Cover the zucchini with more EVO and seal. You can eat them right away but they improve somewhat after a day or two. Each time you take some out push the remainder down under the oil, adding more oil if needed before returning the jar to the fridge.
Blanching for preserving longer: If you would like to make sott’ olio that will keep for a few weeks or longer in the fridge, you need to blanch them in vinegar after they come out of the salt instead of soaking them overnight in vinegar. Then proceed with the above method, squeezing and drying them well and packing them in the jars under oil.