As we enter into late summer, it’s once again the traditional time of year for putting up the season’s bountiful vegetables for enjoyment in the colder weather months. Some vegetables, like tomatoes, take to straight up canning. They are briefly cooked, either peeled and left whole (for pelati) or milled (for passata) before being sealed in mason jars. Other vegetables can be prepared sott’aceto, literally “under vinegar” aka pickled, as in the much loved antipasto known as gardiniera.
Today we’re taking a look at yet another technique for putting up vegetables known as sott’olio, literally “under oil”, using eggplant as our prime example. You cut the eggplant into strips, salt them overnight, then lightly parboil them in a mixture of vinegar and water, and finally cure them in oil with garlic and herbs.
Vegetables preserved sott’olio may not be quite as piquant as those sott’aceto, but they’re every bit as tasty. So tasty, in fact, you won’t want to wait until winter to enjoy them, whether as antipasto on their own or as a topping for bruschetta, as part of a rice salad or as a side for roasted or grilled meats.
Makes one large mason jar
- 2-3 medium eggplants, about 750 g-1 kilo/2 lbs
- Salt, q.b.
- 500 ml/2 cups white wine vinegar
- 500 ml/2 cups water
- 2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano or mint (or both)
- 1-2 peperoncini, cut into small pieces, or red pepper flakes (optional)
Peel the eggplants, the slice them and then cut the slices into strips about the size of your little finger.
Salt the eggplant strips generously and lay the in a colander inside a bowl. Top with a small plate and weigh the plate down. (A small can of tuna, beans or tomatoes works well.) Leave to rest overnight.
The next day, as pictured above, a considerable amount of liquid should have drained into the bowl. Discard that. Take the eggplant strips by the handful and squeeze them of as much of their remaining liquid as you can.
Bring the vinegar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the eggplant by the handful and boil each batch for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.
When the eggplant strips are cool enough to handle, squeeze them again of their excess liquid.
Now, place the eggplant strips in a mason jar or other air-tight container, layering them with bits of garlic, peperoncino and herbs.
Press everything down to compact the contents of the jar, then add as much olive oil as you need to cover the eggplant strips completely.
Close the jar tightly and let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least a couple of days, preferably a week, before consuming.
Notes on preserving sott’olio
The sott’olio technique is hard to mess up. But if you want best results, there are a few tips to bear in mind when it comes to the ingredients.
First and foremost, use medium to small eggplants if you can find them. They tend to be more tender and contain fewer seeds than the usual gigantic ones.
Use fresh hot red peppers, if you can find them, although as you will have seen, I used dried ones for this post as that’s what I had in the house. (And I don’t do single item shopping these days for obvious reasons!) If you do use dried peperoncini, use a bit less as they tend to be hotter than the fresh variety.
White wine vinegar is, for some reason, harder to find than red, but it’s important for this dish as it won’t discolor the veg. In a pinch, you can substitute apple cider vinegar. And if, like me, you prefer a milder flavor, you can use a 2:1 water to vinegar ratio rather than the 1:1 ratio mentioned here.
The olive oil, of course, is perhaps the most crucial ingredient besides the eggplant, so use the best quality oil you can find and afford. Personally I prefer fruity southern Italian oils from Puglia and Sicily for this dish, but again, what I had on hand was a milder oil from Liguria. It was still delicious.
The basic sott’olio technique is remarkably consistent across recipes, but there are a few variations worth mentioning.
First off, to salt or not to salt? These days most eggplants don’t really need salting to remove their bitterness, as they used to tell you in the old days. But salting is still helpful for preserving eggplant sott’olio, in my opinion, as it helps soften the eggplant to better absorb its flavorings. And, of course, the salt itself seasons the eggplant. But if you want to skip this step, increase the parboil time to 3-5 minutes. And you’ll be in fine company; none other than my muse Jeanne Caròla Francesconi doesn’t salt her melanzane sott’olio. If you do opt not to pre-salt the eggplant, do make sure to season the parboiling liquid.
Then there’s the oil curing time. The majority of recipes call for at least a week’s cure before consuming the eggplant. A few tell you to cure the eggplant as long as a month. Truth be told, the eggplant will be perfectly edible in just a couple of days, although the favor and texture both improve with time. Let your own taste (and patience) be your guide.
Recipes vary on the choice of herbs, mostly calling for oregano or mint. Each has its charms. Oregano produces a ‘spicier’ result, while mint provides a fresher taste. Some recipes call for both, which sounds confusing to the palate. Yet others call for bay leaf, basil or parsley. And it seems to me that you could play around with other herbs as suit your taste. And, it should go almost without saying, the measurements given here for the garlic and herbs are notional. It’s really all just to taste.
Preserving other veggies sott’olio
A variety of other vegetables can be preserved using the same oil cure. Here are tips on some of the most typical:
- Peppers: The peppers can be preserved sott’olio two ways. Method 1: Trim red or yellow bell peppers as indicated in this post and cut them into strips. Cook parboil them three minutes in vinegar and water and proceed as in the above recipe. Method 2: Roast the pepper as in this post, then proceed to layer them with the garlic and herbs and cover with oil as above.
- Mushrooms: Small mushrooms like pioppini or chiodini can be left whole. Otherwise, cut them into halves or quarters depending on size. Parboil in vinegar and water, 3 minutes for very small mushrooms, otherwise 5-7 minutes. Then proceed as above.
- Zucchini: Cut them into round slices or batons, salt them but only for an hour or two. (Or skip the salting if you prefer.) Then parboil the rounds or batons in vinegar and water for 3-5 minutes and proceed as above.
- Baby artichokes: Trim the artichokes as indicated in this post, then depending on their size and your preference, leave them whole or cut in halves or quarters. Parboil for 5-7 minutes in vinegar and water, then proceed as above. With the artichoke’s delicate flavor, you may want to omit the peperoncino and use black peppercorns instead. NB: Some recipes have your lightly grill the artichokes rather than parboil them.
None of these vegetables absorb water quite like eggplant, so there’s no need to squeeze them dry. (In fact, the delicate zucchini would turn to mush if you tried.) Rather, just pat them dry with paper towels after salting (for the zucchini) and after parboiling (for all of them). And so remember to season the parboiling liquid since you will not have pre-salted the veg.
In Puglia they apply the sotto’olio technique to lampascioni, the bulb of the tassel hyacinth, a kind of flowering wild onion plant typical of the region. Since lampascioni are basically impossible to find elsewhere, I won’t bother with the recipe here, but if you read Italian, this post describes it well.
Vegetables preserved sott’olio should last for a few weeks without any special treatment, so long as you make sure they are completely covered by the oil. Once open, it’s a good precaution to refrigerate any leftovers, just let it come back to room temp before serving.
For longer term storage, you can sterilize and seal the jars by first dishwashing them first on the “sanitize” or equivalent setting. After filling the jars, simmering them in enough water to cover for 30 minutes. This should produce a vacuum seal. Your canned veg should last through the winter, if not longer.
- 2-3 2-3 medium eggplants, about 750 g-1 kilo/2 lbs
- Salt, q.b.
- 500m 2 cups white wine vinegar
- 500ml 2 cups water
- 2-3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano or mint (or both)
- 1-2 peperoncini, cut into small pieces, or red pepper flakes optional
- Peel the eggplants, the slice them and then cut the slices into strips about the size of your little finger.
- Salt the eggplant strips generously and lay the in a colander inside a bowl. Top with a small plate and weigh the plate down. Leave to rest overnight.
- The next day a considerable amount of liquid should have drained into the bowl. Discard. Take the eggplant strips by the handful and squeeze them of as much of their remaining liquid as you can.
- Bring the vinegar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the eggplant by the handful and boil each batch for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.
- When the eggplant strips are cool enough to handle, squeeze them again of their excess liquid.
- Now, place the eggplant strips in a mason jar or other air-tight container, layering them with bits of garlic, peperoncino and herbs.
- Press everything down to compact the contents of the jar, then add as much olive oil as you need to cover the eggplant strips completely.
- Close the jar tightly and let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least a couple of days, preferably a week, before consuming.