sottaceti and sottoli

sottaceti and sottoli

“homemade pickles (sottaceti) and oil-packed vegetables (sottoli)”

In the days before refrigeration, the summer months were perhaps the busiest time of the year for Italian cooks, especially those with access to a garden: Throughout the land people broke out the canning jars and set to work, selecting, peeling, and slicing the various vegetables and fruit as they reached optimum ripeness, cooking them if need be, packing the jars, filling them with oil, vinegar, or syrup, and sterilizing them before they packed them off in the pantry to await the winter months, when the selection of fresh fruit and vegetables was greatly reduced.

Sottaceti (Sotto Aceti, meaning literally, “under vinegar”) are vegetables that have been pickled in vinegar, whose acidity keeps the food from spoiling. Italians generally use wine vinegar, though apple vinegar will also work, as will flavored vinegar, which will give your sotto aceti an extra boost. When selecting vinegar for pickling, make certain it’s fairly strong, especially if you plan to pickle vegetables that have high moisture content.
Sottoli (literally, “under oil”) are vegetables packed in olive oil, and require much more care in preparation than do sottaceti because oil is not a preservative; it prevents spoilage merely by isolating the vegetables from the air. This means that the vegetables must be fully cooked (often in vinegar, whose acidity acts as a disinfectant) and transferred immediately to a sterile jar, which must be filled immediately, and tapped briskly so as to dislodge all the air bubbles. Do not pack anything raw in oil, because raw vegetables can harbor bacteria on their surfaces even if they have been well washed, and some of these bacteria can do quite well in the anaerobic (i.e. airless) environment of a sottolio jar. There is a small, but serious, risk for botulism if this process is not done correctly. Therefore, when you open a jar of sottoli, be careful. If the lid is domed up, and there’s a whisper of air escaping the jar, discard it, because it might not be safe.




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