Giardiniera

Giardiniera (jahr-dee-N’YEHR-ah) is one of those situations where even if you stumble through the pronunciation, it still comes out sounding really good, as in appetizing. Here’s another way you can master all those consonants wrapped in vowels. Just say “jar-dee-nearer” and it will be close enough.

The giardiniera family can be quite interesting. If it appears as “alla giardiniera,” it implies “garden style,” or a dish made or served with chopped cooked or fresh vegetables. Some references to giardiniera call it a “relish,” which it is in a broad manner of speaking. And to take it one step further, a “pickled relish.” And “condiment” is another term associated with giardiniera. What’s in a name as long as it comes out delicious?

If you walk into an Italian beef stand in Chicago and you ask for a beef sandwich “hot,” it will get dressed with a giardiniera that has been stoked with chopped vegetables — carrots, sport peppers, celery, cauliflower, jalapenos — all done up with herbs, olive oil and white vinegar.

It is not uncommon for a giardiniera to be made in house, which means that the ingredients can vary widely. Crushed red pepper flakes might show up here but not there. Capers, as well, and ditto for chopped olives and red bell pepper. Vegetable oil often is used instead of olive oil. Soybean oil is used as well. And, yes, in some instances all three oils — olive, vegetable, soybean — have ended up in a giardiniera. It’s this kind of free-wheeling style that makes giardiniera so enticing and interesting.

Giardiniera, whether it is made in house or purchased (and there are many good ones available in jars and cans), can be used in any number of ways: pizza, sandwiches, salads, antipasto. And if we take the sandwich category alone, there are many ways (subs, heros, grinders, muffaletta) to use a giardiniera to crank up the flavor engine.

You can use the recipe below to make a fine giardiniera from scratch. On the other hand, if you want to jump start the process, simply purchase giardiniera from a supplier that is ready to go. Giardiniera in the jar comes in either a hot or mild version, which allows for taste (and heat) enhancement.

All of this means there are no excuses for not adding a pizza giardiniera to your menu, or giving it a try as a daily pizza special. Or for adding a tasty giardiniera to one of your sandwiches (giardiniera will not replace an olive salad used in a muffaletta, but it comes very close). Also, it is interesting how well giardiniera works with a grilled fish sandwich. And recently I had a sandwich in which chopped portobello mushrooms were mixed with giardiniera. Served on an Italian roll with provolone, the sandwich had some real zip to it.

Giardiniera
Yield: about 5 cups (scale up in direct proportion)

½ cup finely diced carrots
½ cup sliced (1/8-inch thick) on the bias sport peppers
½ cup very small cauliflower florets
1½ cup sliced (1/8-inch slices) on the bias celery
½ to 1 cup sliced jalapenos, as desired for mild or hot flavor
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

In a non-reactive bowl or container, combine all the vegetables with the oregano and garlic. Add the oils and the vinegar and toss to combine. Cover and store in a cool place, but do not refrigerate. Giardiniera should be made at least one day ahead of use to allow the flavors to infuse. Shelf life is one week, stored covered in a cool place.

Pizza Giardiniera
The combination of giardiniera, Italian sausage, and provolone cheese makes this a must-try pizza. Sliced provolone goes over the crust to keep it from getting soggy from the oil in the giardiniera; then more provolone goes on top of the giardiniera. And that’s all you need to make this delicious pizza. As noted, you can adjust the heat of the giardiniera by adding more jalapenos or crushed red pepper flakes.

Yield: One 12-inch pizza (Scale up in direct proportion)

1 12-inch pizza shell
7 slices provolone (or 5 ounces shredded)
½ cup giardiniera, excess oil drained
½ pound cooked sweet Italian sausage crumbles
5 slices provolone (or 3 ounces shredded)

Lay the slices of provolone over crust, up to 1/2-inch of the crust edge
Combine the drained giardiniera with the cooked sausage crumbles and spread this mixture evenly over the layer of cheese up to 1/2-inch of the crust edge.

Lay the remaining 5 slices of provolone evenly over the sausage/giardiniera mixture.
Bake the pizza until the top layer of cheese melts into the giardiniera and the cheese takes on brown speckles.

There are countless variations to this pizza. You can use mozzarella instead of provolone, but I really like how the smoky characteristic of provolone works with the spiciness of the giardiniera. You can add chopped pepperoni to the sausage mixture. Also, you can add chopped fresh or canned plum tomatoes to the giardiniera just before spreading it on the pizza.

If you want to make a vegetarian giardiniera pizza. Add other vegetables–chopped tomatoes, olives, onions, bell pepper–to the basic giardiniera and eliminate the sausage.

A spoonful or two of giardiniera on a plate with salumi (cured meats) or as an addition to an antipasto platter is a nice touch.

Giardiniera, as noted before, is an essential condiment for an Italian beef or Italian sausage sandwich.