In a Pickle : Carmel Chef Don Ferch Stirs Up Brined Baby Vegetables

B etsy Balsley is The Times' food editor

CHOOSING interesting and compatible vegetables to go with elegant entrees can be difficult on occasion. An even bigger problem for a chef is the challenging prospect of serving a large group of fellow food professionals at an outdoor luncheon. Don Ferch, executive chef at Highlands Inn in Carmel, came up with a delightful solution to both of these menu difficulties when he recently catered an alfresco luncheon for a group of visiting German chefs and wine merchants.

For his entree, Ferch grilled Sonoma lamb to tender-pink perfection over hot coals and served it with a Cabernet sauce. But the vegetables that accompanied the delicate meat earned as much praise from the diners as the lamb did.

Knowing that both his space and time would be limited, Ferch elected to pickle baby vegetables in a light vinaigrette well ahead of the luncheon. Served at room temperature, the slightly tart flavors and crisp texture of the various vegetables were a perfect foil for the tender lamb.

With baby vegetables readily available in most supermarkets these days, Ferch's method of serving them can be adapted with ease to summer menus of all types.

Once blanched, most of the vegetables can be combined in the pickling liquid. Be warned, however: Baby beets are the exception. Unless you want everything to turn pink, blanch and pickle beets separately. Also, the longer the vegetables stand in the pickling liquid, the more tart they become. So unless you want a strong pickled flavor, don't let them remain in the flavorful liquid more than eight hours.

DON FERCH'S PICKLED BABY VEGETABLES 1 bunch baby carrots4 baby zucchini6 baby yellow crookneck squash3 baby pattypan squash2 bunches baby turnips1 bunch baby white radishes1 cup white wine1 cup Champagne wine vinegar3 or 4 sprigs fresh dill1 tablespoon mustard seed1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded Clean and trim baby carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan squash, turnips and white radishes. Cook in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. Remove from heat and plunge at once into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and chill well. Combine white wine, Champagne wine vinegar, dill, mustard seed, sugar and jalapeno pepper and chill. When both vegetables and pickling solution are well chilled, pour pickling solution over vegetables and stir to mix well. Cover and chill 6 to 8 hours. Serve as accompaniment for hot lamb, beef or poultry. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Vegetables will need to cook varying lengths of time. As each reaches the crisp-tender stage, remove it from boiling water and plunge it into cold water at once. If desired, baby beets can be prepared separately and stored in a separate pickling solution; add them to the other vegetables just before serving.

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