Photo Credit: Elizabeth Newman
Sweet pickled Giardiniera is a hugely popular condiment in Italy – and here’s why we love it.
Giardiniera (Jeear-de-NYER-ah – say it with us!) is one of those magical ingredients that just seems to make nearly every dish a little better. From sandwiches to salads to antipasti platters, these pickled vegetables add a pop of sweet acidity to everything they touch. Here’s everything you need to know about the delicious condiment – where it came from, where to get it, what to put it on, and how to make it from scratch.
What is Giardiniera?
To put it simply, Giardiniera are vinegar-pickled vegetables from Italy. When it comes to the type of vegetables, there are no real rules – however, you’ll often see a mix of cauliflower, peppers, celery, green beans, onions and carrots, give or take.
In Italy, giardiniera is most commonly eaten before big meals as a part of the classic ritual of antipasti, in order to get those digestive juices flowing and get people excited for the meal ahead.
Giardiniera translates to “from the garden,” which is an apt name for the practice from which it originated. (It’s also sometimes known as “verdure sottaceto” in Italy, which means “vegetables under vinegar”.) Pickling an assortment of summer garden vegetables was a means to preserve those fresh flavors during the months of frost, so the contents of giardiniera just depended on whatever vegetables needed to get preserved!
Like many Italian staples of cuisine, it found its way to the United States in the late 1800s during the wave of Italian immigration. It did, however, go through some changes as it became a staple in some regions of the ‘states. As a matter of fact, most giardiniera you’ll come across in a regular grocery store isn’t authentically Italian-style at all – it’s often the American counterpart. Which brings us to…
What’s the difference between “Chicago-Style” and classic Italian giardiniera?
Giardiniera is absolutely beloved in Chicago – it’s often considered the quintessential condiment of the city.
Chicago-style giardiniera is different than traditional Italian-style in quite a few ways. Chicago-style is a roughly chopped relish, whereas Italian giardiniera has much bigger, crisper pieces of fresh vegetables. Think of it this way: Chicago-style is created with the idea of being a condiment in mind, whereas the Italian version was simply a way to preserve garden-fresh vegetables. If it looks like it would go right on a sandwich, it’s likely Chicago-style – if it looks more like it would make its home on a charcuterie board, you’re probably looking at a traditional Italian type of giardiniera.
The method of preservation is different, as well. Italian giardiniera is simply pickled in vinegar along with some spices, salt and sugar. Chicago-style, however, goes through a two-part operation, which starts with a similar vinegar pickling, and is then drained and preserved in oil.
Additionally, Chicago-style generally has a much higher ratio of peppers to other ingredients.
Giada’s recipe? It’s in the middle of Italian and the Italian-American version. It follows the two-step process of first pickling in vinegar and then preserving in oil, a la Chicago-style giardiniera. However, with big fresh chunks of vegetables as opposed to a chopped relish, it visually appears much more similar to the classic Italian version, and with vegetables more common to Italy as well.
How do you use it?
How don’t you? Giardiniera brings a lot to the table: freshness, sweetness, acidity, salt, and a crisp crunch.
• Snack plates, antipasti platters, charcuterie boards and beyond – the most classic use of authentic giardiniera is to be eaten as antipasti, the Italian before-dinner snack ritual.
• Nearly any sandwich benefits from some chopped giardiniera (scroll down for recipes!)
• One of Giada’s most classic Italian holiday salads, the Insalata Di Rinforzo, relies on giardiniera for the bulk of its ingredients.
• A salad, especially a chopped Italian-style one, is an amazing vehicle for tossing in some giardiniera.
Where do I get some?
While you might find a jar or two of the condiment in your average grocery store in the United States, giardiniera is hugely popular in Italy, and most stores will carry a wide variety. For authentic Italian giardinera, your best bet is to find your local Italian grocery store – or, of course, head to our Giadzy shop for our absolute favorite authentic jars of the pickled vegetables. Crisp, bright and sweet, the giardiniera in our shop is made from a small family-owned company in Italy, and it’s got a fresh snap that you’d be hard pressed to find in your average store!