Giardiniera means "from the garden"

Make yours pickled or fermented, Italian-style or Chicago-style

click to enlarge Giardiniera means "from the garden"
Credit: Ann Shaffer Glatz
Fermented Italian-style giardiniera

Summer's end is just around the bend. My tomatoes and cucumbers are starting to get scarce, but the capsicum plants I've been faithfully tending are heavy with peppers and ablaze with color. It's time to preserve some of this bounty for enjoyment over the winter months. Homemade giardiniera is a delicious way to preserve the summer in a jar.

For hundreds of years, people have been preserving vegetables by pickling them in vinegar or fermenting them in salt water. Pickling and fermenting are very different processes. Pickling is a sterile process for preserving food; there are no microorganisms involved. The pickling process utilizes hot acidic liquid to preserve the vegetables and prevent spoilage. Fermentation is a living process relying on acid production by beneficial microorganisms. During this process, lactobacillus, a salt-tolerant bacteria, converts the sugars in foods into lactic acid. This prevents food spoilage by creating an acidic environment that undesirable bacteria can't tolerate.

Giardiniera (pronounced giar-di-nie-re) is an Italian word meaning "from the garden." Traditionally in Italy, giardiniera is served with antipasto, a first course often consisting of pickled vegetables, olives, artichokes and cured meat. Giardiniera is also great on sandwiches, pairing especially well with prosciutto cotto or mortadella. Italian giardiniera usually contains bite-sized pieces of peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and gherkins. Most modern giardiniera recipes rely on vinegar for flavor and preservation but, before 1823 when large-scale industrial production of vinegar was first introduced, people mostly relied on fermentation with salt.

A regional variant is known as Chicago-style giardiniera. Peppers predominate and the pieces are cut up smaller than the Italian version. Chicago-style giardiniera is usually served as a condiment for Italian beef sandwiches and hot dogs and is available in hot or mild styles. Some Chicago-style versions do not include vinegar, just oil. However, adding vinegar acts as a preservative and prolongs shelf life.

Fermented Italian-style Giardiniera
Makes about 1 quart

Ingredients:
½ medium cauliflower, separated into bite-sized pieces
2 bell peppers, sliced into bite-sized pieces
2-3 jalapeños, cut in half lengthwise
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Filtered water
Kosher salt

Equipment needed:
Quart wide-mouthed canning jar
Digital kitchen scale
Fermentation weight (optional)
Vented fermentation lid (optional)

Preparation

Wash and prep the vegetables as indicated.

Place a clean jar on the digital kitchen scale and tare (set to zero).

Tightly hand-pack the vegetables, bay leaves and thyme sprigs into the jar but leave 1 inch of space unfilled at the top of the jar.

Add enough filtered water to cover the vegetables. Record the total weight of the water and vegetables (minus the weight of the jar).

Pour out the water into a separate container. Multiply the total weight of the vegetables and water by .03 to calculate the amount of salt to add. Add the salt to the water, stir to dissolve, and pour the brine back into the jar with the vegetables.

Place a fermentation weight in the jar to keep all the vegetables submerged. Alternatively, you can partially fill a resealable sandwich bag with some brine and place it atop the vegetables.

Cover the jar with a vented fermentation lid. If you don't have a fermentation lid, use a regular lid. If you use a regular lid, you will need to loosen and retighten the lid every day to "burp" the jar and let the gases escape. The giardiniera will get very bubbly and liquid may flow out. Set the jar on a tray or plate to catch any overflow.

After 4 weeks of fermentation, remove the fermentation weight and move the giardiniera jar to refrigeration. It should keep for several months.

Pickled Italian-style Giardiniera

Makes about one quart

Ingredients
½ medium cauliflower, separated into bite-sized pieces
2 bell peppers, sliced into bite-sized pieces
2-3 jalapeno peppers, cut in half lengthwise
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup of distilled white vinegar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower, peppers, onion, garlic, carrots, and celery.

Make the pickling liquid: In a large saucepan, combine the two vinegars, water, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the vegetables. Blanch for about one minute, then scoop the vegetables back into the mixing bowl, reserving the pickling liquid.

Place the basil, celery seed, bay leaf and black pepper into a clean wide-mouth quart canning jar. Tightly pack the vegetables into the jar, leaving 1 inch of space unfilled at the top of the jar.

Pour in the pickling liquid to cover the vegetables, leaving ½ inch of head space. Top with the olive oil. Cover tightly with a lid.

Refrigerate at least 2 days before using, to allow flavors to meld. It should keep for at least 2 months in the refrigerator.

Homemade Chicago-Style Giardiniera

Chicago-style giardiniera is a must for Italian beef sandwiches.
Makes about 1 quart

Ingredients
½ medium cauliflower, separated into bite-sized pieces
5 jalapeno peppers, diced (or substitute bell peppers for mild giardiniera)
5 serrano peppers, diced
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1/2 cup salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup vinegar
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup green olives, chopped

Preparation

Wash and prep the vegetables as indicated.

In a large bowl, combine peppers with cauliflower, carrots and celery. Sprinkle with the salt. Add enough cold water to cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the vegetables in a colander and rinse well. Add the chopped olives and set aside.

Make a vinaigrette. In a separate bowl, combine the garlic, oregano, celery seed, crushed red pepper flakes and ground black pepper. Add oil and vinegar and whisk to combine.

Pack the vegetable mixture into jars, and cover with the vinaigrette.

Refrigerate at least 2 days before using to allow flavors to meld. Make sure the vegetables are submerged in the vinaigrette. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.

Peter Glatz

After the passing of his wife, Julianne (former Illinois Times food columnist), Peter Glatz decided to retire from a 40-year career as a dentist to reinvent himself as a chef at the age of 66. In his short culinary career, he has worked at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant, Oklahoma City’s Nonesuch...

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