What Is Giardiniera?
Long a staple in many Italian-American communities, giardiniera is an Italian style condiment that is usually packed in shelf stable jars with vinegar or olive oil. And while recipes to make giardiniera differ, most consist of a mix of chopped celery, mild or hot peppers, carrots, olives, and a blend of spices. With summer approaching and the availability of fresh vegetables during this season, it is the opportune time to make this unique dish.
While there are numerous versions of giardiniera, most often, you will find it labeled as either hot or mild, and depending on your taste buds, you’ll chose one or the other. The hot style is enough to give your appetizers or main courses a kick, but not too hot to overwhelm flavors. The mild version adds an Italian restaurant appetizer taste accent not found in many places anymore.
This unique condiment of ingredients are usually coarsely chopped and then tossed with a specialty blend of spices. Traditionally, pitted green olives are then added to the mix and the mixture is packed into containers.
Giardiniera (pronounced jar-deen-YAIR-uh and Italian for “from the garden”) is piled on pizza, hot dogs and even stirred into tuna salad. 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 Italy people went to work, selecting, peeling, and slicing the various vegetables and fruit, cooking them, packing the jars, and sterilizing them, before the jars were stored away for the winter months.
Now, of course, refrigeration, commercial cold storage, and long distance shipping have greatly increased the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, many of which are no longer seasonal but rather sold year round. There is, therefore, less need for preserving summer’s bounty and, additionally, vegetables pickled or packed in oil are available commercially everywhere. This doesn’t mean that Italians have stopped making Sottoli and Sotto Aceti (as they are called in Italy), because, those who have vegetable gardens must still preserve what they do not consume or give away.
Sotto Aceti 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 vinegars, which will give your sotto aceti an extra touch. When selecting vinegar for pickling, make certain it’s fairly strong, especially if you plan to pickle vegetables that have high moisture contents.
Sottoli are vegetables packed in olive oil, and require much more care in preparation than do sotto aceti, 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.
There’s a satisfaction that comes from making pickles at home, plus one can tailor the recipes to suit one’s tastes, and they also make excellent gifts. Instead of mixed pickles, you can make a single vegetable in one jar.
Artichokes packed in oil
Cipolline Sotto Aceto
A medley of pickled vegetables
A classic hot and spicy condiment made with fruit
Vegetables pickled and packed in oil.
Peperoni Sotto Aceto
Pickled bell peppers
Tiny round hot peppers
Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, Calabrian style.
Making the pickles is a tradition in many Italian-American households, but it does not require the work you might expect of a long-handed-down custom. This is preserving with no lids to seal and no fear of poisoning your family; it takes only an hour or so of preparation and two or three days of waiting, and keeps in the refrigerator for weeks.
In many ways, what follows is more about technique than recipe, with flexibility to suit your mood or tastes. If you love carrots, add more. Or introduce zucchini, eggplant, onions or green beans. If you want it extra-spicy, add more serrano peppers or red pepper flakes . Chop the vegetables uniformly so that the brine will penetrate evenly: mincing makes a great relish for a hot dog, while larger pieces are better for a side dish.
The process is not complicated: vegetables brine in salty water overnight, then rinse the vegetables, make the vinaigrette and pack the jars. After a couple of days, taste the pickle; you just may be hooked. The fact that this version is not cooked, as in standard canning methods, means the vegetables retain their freshness.
Yield: About 2 quarts.
- 4 serrano chiles, thinly sliced, with seeds removed
- 2 red sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 or 2 celery ribs, sliced
- 1 or 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 cloves garlic, slivered
- 1 (5 ounce) jar pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
- 3 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you would like a hotter version)
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 1/2 cup grape seed or safflower oil. (or use all olive oil)
1. In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the vegetables and salt until well combined. Cover the vegetables with water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to sit, unrefrigerated, for 8 to 12 hours.
2. Drain the vegetables and rinse thoroughly. Sterilize 2 quart-size glass jars, with lids, in the dishwasher or by submerging them in boiling water for 10 minutes.
3. In one sterilized jar, combine the garlic, olives and all the herbs and spices; add the vinegar and the oils and shake well to emulsify the dressing. Pour half the dressing into the other jar.
4. Pack the vegetables into the jars. If vegetables are not completely coated, make and add more dressing. Screw lids on to jars and refrigerate. Allow the mixture to mellow for a 4-5 days before serving.
Because the condiment has oil in it, the oil will congeal in the refrigerator. Just dish out a serving and let it stand at room temperature for 10- 15 minutes.
How To Use Giardiniera:
The beauty of this condiment is its versatility. Add some giardiniera to scrambled eggs for an eye opening twist, or similarly, fold some into an omelet.
For the most part though, plan to add a few forkfuls to any Italian style dish. It is the ideal addition to a sandwich or add it to pasta salad. The standard Italian antipasto misto wouldn’t be quite right without these, and they also work very well alongside grilled fish or meats, especially pork chops or as a condiment for burgers.
- Capturing the harvest in a jar (kansascity.com)
- You Are What You Eat: In a pickle? Salt-free ways to preserve veggies (ballardnewstribune.com)
- Pitchfork Preserves (coolhunting.com)
- Making pickles!! (simplewordsofachristianmom.wordpress.com)