A Confluence of Canned Food: Could It Be a Trend?

It’s funny, just writing that made me think of the verrine craze in Paris. Verrines are glasses and, while the mania for serving everything from soup to desserts in glasses started a while ago, it’s still going strong, particularly among pastry chefs, who love the glasses because they free them from creating within the limits imposed by cakes and tarts and the need for customers to carry their pastries from shop to home safely. 

I guess you could argue that the canning jars that turned up at my house Saturday provided similar safe passage, but while verrines whisper elegance, canning jars sing out comfort, and the food that was in these jars this weekend was definitely — and happily — comforting. 

sue's olives.jpgSue Levine’s Mason jar packed tight with olives was the stuff of smiles.  Just seeing the jar, with its layers of olives and lemons and the grains of spices pressed against the glass, immediately put me in mind of summer lunches outdoors in Provence.  As she handed me the jar, she said, “The olives are terrific, but the oil is divine.”  And, of course, it would be, since it was good olive oil made better by the addition of olives and spices. It’s going to make great vinaigrettes and an even better drizzle over tomatoes, roasted peppers, cauliflower, oh, anything, really. Here’s the recipe as Sue gave it to me:

SUZANNE LEVINE’S LEMON-MARINATED OLIVES

10 ounces brine-cured green olives, rinsed and drained

9 slices of lemon

1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds

1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

1 cup best olive oil

“You’re supposed to make three layers, using one-third of the ingredients for each layer, in a 2-cup jar, but I’ve never been able to make that work. [Sue said she just puts the ingredients in the jar, starting with the lemons, and hopes that she finishes with the lemons because it looks pretty when you open the jar and see them.] Marinate for at least two weeks before serving, although you can keep the olives for many months.”

carol's weed pesto.jpgCarol Lewitt arrived with her jar of tightly packed pesto and announced, “It’s weed pesto.”  Pressed for what was in the jar, Carol kept repeating that it was made from weeds.  If this is what weeds taste like, then we should all let every bit of grass we’ve got go to weed.  I’d say this was some of the best pesto I’d ever tasted, but since it tasted like no other pesto I’ve ever had, I’m not sure it’s a legit claim.  I kept tasting the pesto, looking at the dandelions that were growing between the cracks in the pathway and thinking, “Could it be dandelion pesto?”  Silly me, of course not — dandelions are way too tame for Carol.  When Carol sent me the recipe, she wrote:  “I decided not to garden, but to learn to forage!  I brought you a garlic mustard pesto.” 

A Google search confirmed what Carol had told me — garlic mustard is an invasive weed.  In fact, the first reference I found called it ‘noxious’.  Guess the researchers never tasted Carol’s pesto.  Sadly for those of us in Connecticut who want to try our hand at this pesto, Carol says you need to get the first leaves and that now it’s too late, since the weed is flowering.  However, our trusty forager says, “The flowers are good in salads.”

CAROL LEWITT’S WEED PESTO

2 cups garlic mustard leaves (pulled from pre-flowering weeds)

2 cups walnuts

1 cup basil

1 1/2 cups green olives (I don’t think I ever want to make pesto without olives again – they’re great in the mix — DG)

3/4 cup parsley

1/2 cup miso (Yes, miso — who woudda thunk? — DG)

Carol writes, “I don’t add salt, but it may need a bit.  Mix with enough oil to bind. Makes a ton.”

I didn’t ask her if she made the pesto in a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  Either would work, but if you’re foraging, doesn’t a mortar and pestle seem more the tool to use?

potatoes in oil.jpgAfter sipping wine and nibbling on olives and dips and spreads and nuts and saucisson, when we got to the table, I pulled out my two canning jars.  One jar was filled with chunks of salmon that I’d cured overnight in sugar and salt, the way you cure gravlax, rinsed and then packed in a quart-size canning jar with onions, bay leaves, thyme, coriander, pepper, carrots and olive oil.  The other was packed with fingerling potatoes, which I’d boiled, skinned (unnecessary, really, but company was coming) and packed with the same herbs and spices, the same carrots and onions, the same oil, pinches of fleur de sel and some ordinary distilled white vinegar. I left both jars in the fridge for a day before serving, but they could have stayed a few days more and been fine. 

I’d give you more of a recipe, but I’m still working on it (it’s going into my next book). However, I know how terrific you all are at improvising, so my money’s on you that, if this interests you, you’ll find a way to make it and to make it your own.

And if you’re seeing canning-jar food around, or if you’re making food in canning jars, let me know, please.  So far we’ve got a trend, a few more sightings and we might have a movement! 

Dorie Greenspan

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