I've always been a fan of pungent, pickled foods. I prefer to have olives on hand at all times. I get edgy when the jar of capers in my refrigerator door runs low. I was delighted when my local supermarket started carrying these lovely pepper shooters on its olive bar. Hadn't seen them since a neighborhood specialty store went out of business.
But let's face it, even the "best" olive bar or specialty store, at least where I live, doesn't offer up the real deal. One of my fondest memories of dinner with an ex was the giant jar of pickled cauliflower, carrots, onions, etc. that were always in the fridge thanks to said ex's Eastern European mother, who would never let her child go hungry during the long winter months - and never lost "the touch," or interest, in making them.
So I was gob-smacked when I came across this video of Copenhagen chef Rene Redzepi, where he talks about making pickled roses for his Scandinavian winter dinner contribution to Cook It Raw 2010. Talk about hard winters. His research took him to stories of 1941, when the winter was so harsh that some rivers froze solid, fish included, and they could actually walk - or skate - from Denmark to Sweden. And, oh, by the way, his country was occupied by Nazis. OK, I'll stop complaining about our recent snow now.
Pickled . . . roses.
The one time I ate roses was in a rose-petal salsa, which haunts me to this day. Back in the infancy of Food TV, the network sent its folks around the country to drum up interest. When their dog-and-pony show actually came to my town, I was there for the day-long event.
Curtis Aikens, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay did demos with accompanying tastings for the audience. I still make Bobby's Grilled Pepper and Black Olive Relish from time to time, as you can tell by my well worn copy of the brochure. Sissy Biggers hosted a live Ready, Set, Cook featuring hometown chef-hero Jean-Robert de Cavel.
Also at the event were a number of local chefs/restaurants offering up their own tastings. Which is where I tasted (alas, from a chef I think is no longer in town) rose-petal salsa. A revelation. Floral, but not at all perfume-y. Delicately balanced with the heat and pungency of other ingredients.
Sadly, despite some serious googling, I've never come up with a recipe for that rose-petal salsa. Sadder still, can't come up with a thing for pickled roses.
But I did find out a little more about Redzepi, whose Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant named Noma (which translates as "mad Nordic") was named 3rd best restaurant in the world in 2009. He's worked at El Bulli and The French Laundry and is seriously committed to terroir cooking, so perhaps I shouldn't find his notion of pickled roses so unexpected. Perhaps they're just someone else's tradition I'd never heard about before. Nonetheless, I'm captivated. This article from Food & Wine, in all its vinegary goodness, sealed the deal.
Maybe it's because the Eggplant has some Scandinavian blood in her. Or maybe I'm just drawn to thoughts of combatting the cold, snow, and cabin fever. But I love what Redzepi has to say about trying to create a "slice of light" with his winter meal. Although I couldn't find a recipe for pickled roses, I was inspired to go buy a few roses to photograph. When the kind folks at the flower shop offered me the chance to go into their walk-in cooler to select them myself, I couldn't have been happier to smell that sweet scent of spring.
It will be here eventually. But for now, at least I have enough capers to keep me warm.