Giardiniera, (JAR – din – ERA), is the classic Italian mixed pickled vegetable condiment or salad. The preparation has been around for many years and has as many interpretations as there were the nonnas who initially made it, or today’s chefs and adventurous home cooks who have reinterpreted it.
As far as I can recall, neither of my grandmothers made giardiniera but there was always some brined or pickled vegetable included as part of an antipasto, whether it was olives, peppers, or eggplant. Perhaps that is when I came to appreciate pickled vegetables, or was it those great sour pickles I enjoyed as a kid when my father and uncle took us to Katz’s Delicatessan in New York City back in the day?
Over the years I have brined or pickled many vegetables, from a corn relish in the late summertime, to whole garlic cloves or baby okra used as a barbeque topping. Recently I charred shishito peppers in a hot pan and once cooled, pickled those as accompaniment to grilled pork or poultry. The idea of making a batch of giardiniera intrigued me though, because I could now have loads of pickled vegetables of vibrant color and texture all assembled in one jar that I could go to from time to time throughout the spring and summer.
The literal translation of giardiniera is “from the garden,” which aptly describes this tangy and colorful mix of vegetables, all gathered from the garden. The basic recipe generally includes sweet bell pepper, hot pepper, celery, cauliflower, olives, and carrots, although many other vegetables can be added depending on what is available at the market or farm stand.
Traditionally, giardiniera was packaged in olive oil, but today it is more common to bottle it in a vinegar-based brine, in which some olive oil can also be included. Initially, traditional canning methods were used to preserve homemade giardiniera recipes which, when stored properly on a pantry shelf, lasted for up to a year. Having limited experience with canning as a method of preserving foods, I simply store homemade giardiniera in individual jars in the refrigerator topped with olive oil where they will last almost indefinitely.
There are two main parts to preparing a quantity of giardiniera—the vegetable prep, and the cooking of the brine. Once that is complete it is a matter of combining both to cure for a minimum of a week before apportioning the mix into smaller jars, topping with some good olive oil, and storing in the refrigerator for future use.
Just a few other giardineria observations:
- The tartness of the brine can be mellowed by changing the ratio of vinegar to water. I often use white wine instead of water, which adds another layer of flavor to a brine. White vermouth could be used in place of the white wine.
- Cider, white vinegar, or white wine vinegar is preferable to red wine vinegar because the red wine vinegar makes the brine too dark and can stain some of the lighter colored vegetables.
- Vinegar will also bleach out some of the natural pigments in the darker vegetables that will also darken the brine. If, for example, beets are included in the vegetable mix, red beets should be excluded since the vinegar will cause them to “bleed,” making the brine dark and murky looking.
- The use of olive oil provides two benefits to the finished giardiniera: it adds to the overall flavor when, at room temperature, it is dispersed within the brine before serving, and when a jar is refrigerated, the oil rises to the top and congeals, forming a natural barrier that prevents air from getting in and limiting the overall bottle shelf-life.
- The level of heat or spiciness can be controlled by the type and amount of hot or sweet peppers that are included in the vegetable mix. There are many options and is simply a matter of personal taste.
- There are many ways to use the condiment; just to note a few: included as accompaniment to an antipasto spread of cured meats and sharp cheeses, or perhaps my favorite, a finely minced cup or two of the giardiniera folded into a yolk mixture which is spooned back into the hard-cooked whites of deviled eggs, or use that mince to top a crostini.
The following recipe is my interpretation of this classic Italian dish. I chose an extended list of vegetables simply because I like the mix of colors and textures, and wanted these predominant winter roots around to enjoy from time to time during the warmer months when other seasonal vegetables take over. If you are inclined not to have such an extensive mix of vegetables, the core group of vegetables would suffice, as there is a great deal of flexibility of ingredients in a dish like this.
There is also flexibility with the assembly of the brine ingredients and the overall flavoring: which vinegar, water or wine, more salt, less sugar, green peppercorns or black, the use of dried chili peppers, the choice of fresh herbs. In this recipe I chose to tie two herb bundles in the outer green of a large leek. My herb bundle included celery leaf, fennel fronds, parsley stems, mint sprigs, and oregano sprigs.
So let’s get started!
My vegetable mix was as follows:
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, stem, ribs, and seeds removed, cut into thin stripes
2 large celery ribs, cut on the bias
1 cup Castelvetrano olives, because they happened to be in my refrig soaking in a little red wine
2 medium carrots, cut on the bias
1 large fennel bulb, cut into eights through the root end
1 small head cauliflower, separated into florets, with larger florets either halved or quartered
1 small head romanesco, separated into florets, with larger florets either halved or quartered
A small bunch of uniform-size red radishes, cut into “coins” through the stem end
1 large watermelon radish, cut into thick batons
1 small bunch of yellow beets, trimmed and cut through the stem end
1 elephant garlic bulb, halved or quartered after blanching, germ removed
1 bunch cipollini onions, blanched and peeled
1 small container of white cultivated button mushrooms, cleaned, halved, or quartered depending upon size
½ of a large cucumber, cut on the bias
1 small jar tomolives. (Not an olive but a specialty tomato grown to be pickled and floated in a martini. I had a bottle in my pantry and added them simply because I thought it would be interesting!)
Prepare all the vegetables as described and illustrated in the photos. Set a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat to boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Working with one vegetable at a time, except the olives, cucumber, and tomolives, poach each until just fork tender as you want some crunch; the pouching times will vary. Using a strainer, remove to their bowls and set aside. Add water as necessary and return to the simmer before poaching the next vegetable. Once the vegetables are complete and assembled, strain the water and reserve or freeze to be used later as a vegetable base stock for some other dish.
In a large glass jar(s) or container with a lid, arrange the poached vegetables, varying the mix as you go so that there is an even distribution of the vegetables throughout. Set aside.
6 cups vinegar, (cider, white vinegar, or white wine vinegar)
6 cups water, white wine, or white vermouth (in this recipe I used a Riesling from NY State)
Generous ¼ cup salt, kosher or sea salt
6 generous tablespoons sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns, black or green
2 to 3 whole dried hot chili peppers, or to taste (small Calabrian chilis were used)
6 bay leaves
1 to 2 outer greens from a large leek, washed
Several sprigs each, (celery leaf, fennel frond, parsley, mint, oregano, tied together in the leek green)
Add all the ingredients to a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the brine to steep for another 10 minutes or so until it cools down some. Pour the liquid, either strained or not, over the jarred vegetable and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, top with olive oil, cover, and refrigerate for a least a week before serving.
When ready to serve, allow the jar to warm to room temperature, turning it over a few times to distribute the olive oil throughout and serve.
Although to some of you this may seem like a lot of work, the dish actually assembles quickly and you wouldn’t have to do it again until this time next year, giving you ample opportunity to enjoy these colorful and tangy vegetables all spring and summer.
I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t give it a try. Let me know what your vegetable mix turns out to be.
Be well. Eat well.
Proceed as the way opens. “Yes, of course you could do this at home, and you should!” A/W