I thought last weekend was crazy cold, but this coming weekend promises to be even more outrageously frigid. It’s enough to make me wonder if warmer weather will ever arrive. One way to combat the feeling of doom is to bring Spring into the kitchen.
Giardiniera is an Italian word that means Gardener or “from the garden.” It is a mix of vegetables, olives, and typically includes a hot pepper for some heat. The veggies are brined overnight then rinsed and added to seasoned vinegar and topped with good quality olive oil.
The pronunciation can vary. The straight-forward way to say Giardiniera is: jar-din-AIR-ah. However, having grown up outside of Chicago, I recall that many Chicagoans would drop the last syllable. I watched an old episode of Food Network’s The Sandwich King. The chef, Jeff Mauro is a native Chicagoan. He pronounced it more like jar-din-AIR.
If you have visited Chicago you are probably familiar with this highly flavorful, crunchy condiment that is most often paired with Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches. However, its uses are endless, and last night we topped ribeye steaks with the last of my most recent batch of Giardiniera. The acidity cuts through the rich, fattiness of the beef. The crunch compliments the tenderness of the steak. And, meat eaters can feel like they’ve added a fresh, garden element to the meal that’s a bit heavy on the protein.
When I decided to try my hand at making my own, fresh Giardiniera, of course I looked up recipes. They abound on the internet. What I found was that there isn’t one way to make this vegetal treat. How could there be? Pickling has been around for centuries and every location has a different compliment of seasonal vegetables available to combine, process and store. What I provide here is my own rendition both in process and ingredients. You should feel free to add your own spin to this long standing spicy relish.
Fresh pack or preserved? I prefer to make a quick, refrigerator pickle version rather than going through all the work of truly canning the stuff. It’s easy to make a batch that will last a couple of weeks – which is what I’ve read is a good freshness-stamp when it is stored in the refrigerator. The standard ingredients are very easy to secure at a local grocery store. The processing time is not extreme and offers me the chance to continue my journey of learning how to enjoy the experience of preparing foods.
Years ago I used to consider it drudging work to make meals, so I rushed through the prep and cooking – almost as if I didn’t honor the time it took to make quality food. Then, one day I was watching Ina Garten preparing a meal on the Food Network. She was so calm and serene and seemingly content – even happy moving through the steps of preparing her dishes. She seemed incredibly, but modestly pleased to nourish her guests who showed up to partake in her delicious food. I wondered if I could ever feel that way about preparing a meal.
Then, I realized that how I perceive my world is completely my decision. I gifted myself some decent knives and other cooking utensils. I decided to slow down and actually examine how that thin slice of outer skin of a brilliantly orange carrot curled under the soft pressure of a quality vegetable peeler. I challenged myself to pay attention to creating uniform sizes of the produce that I was dicing. It caused a complete turnaround regarding how I felt about food prep. I came to accept that preparing meals was an endeavor that took time. I realized that the moments preparing food were well spent and added value to my life.
So, yeah, back to the subject. Fresh pack not fancy canning is my preference because while I learned to relax during food prep, I didn’t want to go crazy and engage in something as complicated as canning a relish that we’d eat before it spoiled. More so, each day that the giardiniera marinates in the refrigerator the more robust its flavor becomes. I think that flavor development would be lost, along with quite a bit of the fresh crunch, once the product was heated to canning temperatures.
Vinegar or Exclusively Oil? Many of the versions of this Italian condiment I’ve reviewed include an acid component. I use White Wine Vinegar, but you can use any type vinegar. However, there are recipes that store the brined vegetables in olive (or another vegetable) oil without adding any acidic component. My husband isn’t happy if there isn’t some sort of sour note to his food, so my version of giardiniera contains vinegar.
Serrano or Jalapeno pepper? Many of the recipes I reviewed before I tried to make my own giardiniera included jalapenos for the heat. But, my Chicago-land roots just felt that was completely unacceptable. Jalapenos are great, but they take the flavor profile south of the border, not back to Italy. You may make your own decision regarding how much hot pepper you want to add, and what variety.
DICE THE VEGETABLES
Let’s get started! The actual amounts of the individual ingredients isn’t critical. Make a batch size that you believe you will consume in a couple of weeks of storage in the refrigerator. I use terms like “one, whole green pepper” rather than 1.5 cups of diced pepper. What I found when I was specifically prepping the veggies and keeping them separate for photographic purposes in this blog post, was that the amount of celery (three large stalks), carrots (4 medium) and cauliflower (about 1/2 of a medium sized head) all ended up filling the same size bowls. The diced green (one large) and red (one large) bell pepper also combined to be very close to the same quantity of the other three vegetables. So, I feel safe saying “equal parts” of the following, fresh ingredients.
Cut three, large stalks to about a 1/2 inch dice or smaller (your size preference should be dictated on how you envision using the relish.)
Cut four medium (or equivalent) to about a 1/2 inch dice or smaller, trying to keep the size as similar to the other ingredients as possible.
Break the florets into smaller and smaller florets until they match, as best as possible, the size of the celery and carrots.
RED BELL PEPPER (sweet)
Dice one large pepper to the same size as the previous veggies.
GREEN BELL PEPPER (sweet)
Dice one large pepper to the same size as the previous veggies.
Dice two or three medium sized pepper or to taste. Some giardiniera products I have purchased have thinly sliced whole serrano peppers, which then includes the seeds. But, I prefer to quarter them lengthwise and remove most of the seeds and the whitish membranes around the seeds, then dice them about 1/4 inch.
HOW BEAUTIFUL are these fresh vegetables, prepped and ready to become giardiniera? Even with snow falling outside, this has to remind you that Spring and all its opportunity for a summer bounty of fresh produce is just around the corner.
BRINE OVERNIGHT (or at least 12 hours)
Brining – submerging the vegetables in salt water over night – is important because it pulls the extra liquid out of the veggies. If this step is omitted, the water from the vegetables will leach out into the vinegar and lessen its power to preserve the produce and its acidic punch in flavor.
Combine all the diced vegetables and add a 1/2 cup of salt, then pour fresh, cold water to just cover them.
COVER and REFRIGERATOR over night.
You may make this component the same day you dice the veggies, or the next day. If you make it the first day, cover and store in the refrigerator.
Mince 3-5 cloves to taste.
COMBINE DRY INGREDIENTS
1 TBS (or to taste) dried Oregano
1 tsp – 1 TBS (to taste) dried, red pepper flakes
3-5 cloves of minced, fresh garlic
Add one cup White White Vinegar to the dry ingredients. Stir, cover and store refrigerated.
Marinate Veggies in Brine for 12 – 24 hours
Marinate oregano, red chili flakes, garlic in vinegar
I wait to do this task until the following day. Select any type of green, salad olive. The ones I have here are packed with thyme which provides a nice herbaceous note. slice the olives into bite sized pieces similar in size to the diced vegetables.
POUR OFF BRINE LIQUID, RINSE
Once brining is completed (12-24 hours after the produce was diced), remove the vegetables from the refrigerator. Strain off the brining liquid. Rinse the vegetables in cold water.
Add Sliced Olives
Add vinegar with seasonings
(garlic, oregano, chili flakes)
Using a large spoon, mix the ingredients thoroughly, making certain that the vinegar liquid coats all the veggies.
TRANSFER TO STORAGE BOWLS or JARS
Ready enough storage vessels to contain all the giardinaria. I prefer large, glass bowls with fitted lids. You may use lidded jars or other options that will keep the product well sealed while it is in refrigerated storage.
COVER WITH OLIVE OIL
This final step is the defining element of giardinaria, if you ask me. Using a high quality, extra virgin olive oil makes this relish stand out against all others. Giardinaria is not just pickled vegs. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, not all recipes even call for the addition of an acid. It’s the literal unctuousness (truly, this word is over-used in the culinary world because it means greasy more than delicious), that makes it far more than a pickle. The oil takes on all the flavors of the ingredients, and it can stand alone as a condiment. Drizzled over a piece of perfectly crisp sourdough toast, the oil marinade alone can elevate a simple piece of day of bread to the level worthy of an hors d’oeuvres.
REGARD THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR
Before sealing the lid and placing the giardinaria in the fridge for a couple of days to allow for everything to meld together, take a moment to look at your creation. The colors alone should make your heart sing. All those crunchy vegetables are still packed with their nutrients, having been protected from the typical heat of processing. When you scoop a large heaping, oil dripping spoonful onto your favorite sandwich your mouth will be salivating – hoping that you’ll get a bit on the minced, pickled garlic or a the spicy heat of a serrano pepper along with the crunch of the celery.
Robert and I try to eat low carb. So, we often make “sandwiches” with large Romaine lettuce leaves rather than bread. In place of mayonnaise, I add our homemade giardinaria to the wrap of sliced turkey or roast beef, juicy red tomatoes, thinly sliced onions and sometimes avocado. Yes, the spicy oil often drips down the side of my hand, but isn’t that just the best way to know you’ve made an incredible culinary creation?
Last night, it was rib eye steaks. So I will end this post with an image of how my last batch of giardinaria took that meal to another level. In a couple of days this new batch will be ready to compliment all sorts of dishes. Can you think of one worthy of making your own Giardinaria?