Nothing beats the cold crunch of giardiniera on a blustery January day. I don’t know what it is exactly about this ubiquitous Italian mixed pickle ~ the tumble of vibrant colors, the peppery spices, the sharp tang of vinegar ~ but I always crave it at this time of year. My guess is that my is body simply telling me, “Basta with the Pandoro and Christmas cookies.”
You can find jars of giardiniera on any supermarket or deli shelf. But those will never be as good as the giardiniera you make yourself. Homemade giardiniera is crisp and assertive without being abrasive (as commercially produced versions tend to be).
I usually make giardiniera in late fall, before my little local farmers’ market closes for the season. As much as I want to dig in right away, I try to let it cure for at least a month or two, so that all the ingredients and flavors ~ the vegetables, the spices, the vinegar ~ have a chance to mix and mellow. By January it’s just right.
Don’t worry if you missed the boat on the fall vegetables. Even now when winter is in full swing, you can still make an excellent batch of giardiniera. Most winter markets carry a range of cold-weather vegetables ~ cauliflower, carrots, onions. The rest you can find at the grocery store. You don’t have to wait two months, but do let the giardiniera cure for at least a week before cracking open a jar.
This recipe, based on my mom’s, is meant to be tampered with, by which I mean adapted to your own taste. I use a minimal amount of sugar because I enjoy the sour brine, but I know there are others who prefer giardiniera that is more agro-dolce (sweet and sour). You can also play around with the mix of vegetables, and with the type of vinegar ~ generally I use white wine vinegar and distilled white vinegar, but cider vinegar works too, and has an appealing fruity flavor. Just steer clear from red wine or balsamic vinegar, as they will muddy the color of the brine. And please don’t reduce the amount of vinegar ~ the acid is a necessary component to preserving the vegetables and making them shelf-stable.
If the idea of water-bath canning puts you off, skip that part and just refrigerate the pickles; they will last at least a couple of months in the fridge. Canning them properly, though, will give them a longer shelf life; they will last up to a year (after that they will start to lose their crispy texture).
Serve giardiniera with a wide range of foods; it makes an excellent cheese platter garnish. It cuts the richness of winter stews, sausages, and roasts. I love it with eggs, especially cheese frittatas and runny poached or fried eggs. I also like to chop it finely and add it to hard-boiled egg stuffing. And it makes a surprisingly good topping for cheesy pizza.
Giardiniera ~ mixed garden vegetables in vinegary brine ~ is probably Italy's most popular pickle. If the bottled supermarket version of giardiniera is your only reference, you are in for a happy surprise. Homemade giardiniera is much more appealing, crunchy and assertive without being abrasive. This recipe is from Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions (2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
- 1 medium head cauliflower (1 1/2 pounds), separated into florets
- 1 pound young carrots, sliced on the bias if large, left whole or sliced in half lengthwise if small
- 8 ounces pearl or small cipollini onons, peeled
- 6 to 7 ounces green beans, sliced into 2-inch lengths (2 cups)
- 4 large celery stalks, sliced on the bias into 2-inch lengths (2 cups)
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, trimmed, sliced into thin strips
- 1 yellow bell pepper, cored, trimmed, sliced into thin strips
- 2 cups white wine vinegar
- 2 cups distilled white vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon whole juniper berries
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 sterilized 1-quart jars or six 1-pint jars, and their lids
- Basic water-bath canning equipment (see NOTES)
1. Have the vegetables prepped and ready. Combine the vinegars, water, salt, sugar, peppercorns, crushed red pepper, cloves, juniper berries, and bay leaves in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add all the vegetables and stir. Cover the pot and let the vegetables steep, still on the heat, for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and, with a skimmer or large slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
2. Add 2 tablespoons oil to each quart jar or 1 tablespoon to each pint jar. Pack the vegetables into the jars, adding a mix of each vegetable and some of the spices to each jar. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a bubble remover to dislodge any air bubbles. Screw the lids on tightly and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. (Alternatively, fill the jars as directed, screw on the lids, let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.)
3. Store sealed processed jars in a cool, dark place and let the giardiniera cure for at least 1 week before serving (1 month is better if you can be patient). It will keep for up to 1 year. Refrigerate any jars that failed to seal properly and enjoy those first.