I recently visited a dear friend at her Carey Gully house for afternoon tea with our friend who now lives in Sydney. The views over the undulating hills were mesmerising, and my attention kept wandering to the horses and the Dorper lambs gamboling over the dry earth as they searched for shade.
I fantasised about making a 'tree change' as I lusted after her copse of fruit trees, blooming herb garden and productive kitchen garden. But there is a down side to all this excess - an abundance of produce that must be dealt with immediately, in nature's timeline, not our own.
Luckily, I live in a community with backyards that are equally as productive as mine. What a splendid idea. Baskets are scanned by envious eyes as one walks in, then it's an orderly shuffle of bags and produce. Stories and tips are traded as generously as fruit and vegetables.
Back in the Adelaide Hills though, tomatoes spilled out of a wooden bowl, zucchini were piled high in a basket. I thought of my own glut of figs and beans, my hands still sore from pitting stone fruit for jam, drying and stewing. Is it all worth it? The question hangs in the air as our mutual friend reminisces about zucchini sott'olio and stuffed red capsicums under a veil of olive oil fresh from the press. Oh, yes! Memories and recipes. Stories from our shared past make us laugh and blush in equal measure: happy girlhoods, with all the usual small dramas.
And so I took my loot of zucchini home, sterilised a couple of jars and made this recipe for Zucchini Sott'olio to honour the past.
My mother didn't write recipes, she stored them in her head and tried her best to make me remember them by dint of practice and repetition. I think I got it right, this time.
I used a mandolin to slice my 5 zucchini into 3 mm slices. Then I put them on a rack and a tray lined with a tea towel. I used about a tablespoon of salt for two trays of slices. I made sure the salt lightly covered the slices. It was not a particularly sunny day, just dappled light when the clouds obscured the sun so I left the slices out for 4 hours. Other times, it has taken only an hour or so for the slices to lose most of their moisture.
Next, I put the slices in a tub and covered them with good quality white wine vinegar. I weighted the slices down to ensure they were all completely submerged under the vinegar. I forgot about them for about 24 hours. After this, I drained off the vinegar and lightly squeezed out the excess vinegar by hand. You can reuse the vinegar, so don’t throw it out.
Now, for a bit of creativity. I divided the zucchini into three bowls.
Into the first bowl, I added slivers of fresh garlic and home dried oregano with some peppercorns and dressed them with olive oil.
In the second bowl, I put some more garlic slices and lots of home dried mint leaves all crumbled up. I added dried chilli and dressed the lot with olive oil.
Lastly, I dressed the final zucchini with olive oil, a fresh bay leaf from the garden and salted Moroccan lemon pieces.
Now to storing: this is what you’ll do. Pour 3 tablespoons olive oil into sterilised glass jars. Swirl the oil around the sides of the jar to cover all the surfaces with oil. Press the slices and flavourings into each jar, adding oil to each layer as you go. Finally, press the slices down into the jar with the back of your fingers and cover with more oil, so that no slices emerge above the oil.
Sometimes, I add pieces of carrots or red capsicums to the zucchini slices when I put them into their vinegar bath but we didn’t plant any this year, so the zucchini are plain.
Kept in a cool, dark cupboard, they will keep for several months but make sure the slices are always covered with oil.
These slices are great with salumi and piquant cheeses. Sometimes, I serve them with barbequed lamb or pork chops. They are always delicious and remind me of summer and generous friends.