Giardiniera: These olive oil-bathed, Italian pickled vegetables belong on all your spring meals

Come for the pronunciation guide, stay for the giardiniera pasta salad recipe that will change summer barbecues

By Ashlie D. Stevens
Published April 25, 2021 10:36PM (UTC)
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Giardiniera (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

What is giardiniera? 

Giardiniera is an Italian relish made of pickled vegetables. It's really popular in Chicago — popular enough that some jarred brands are referred to as "Chicago-style giardiniera," which typically include pickled bell peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and sometimes gherkins or olives. These typically are doused in a brine made of olive oil and red or white wine vinegar, as well as some spices. 

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Often, you'll find spicy versions, which include sport peppers or chili flakes. It's similar to muffalata, the olive tapenade used on muffuletta sandwiches. 

How do you pronounce it? 

According to Lauren Ocello, who owns the Chicago jam and pickle shop Twidley Bits, she's heard (and will respond to) any of the many pronunciations of "giardiniera." Some go with "jar-din-AIR." Others pronounce the "A" on the end for "jar-din-AIR-uh." Some hit all the vowels for "jee-ahr-din-AIR-uh." 

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"I've even heard 'gar-din-AH-ruh,' and I'm like, 'Alright, I can work with that,'" Ocello said. 

Why should I add it to my condiment stash at home? 

I'm a self-professed giardiniera superfan. Like, you think pickled cucumbers are great? Try a puckery mix of vegetables bathed in olive oil with a light (or not so light) kick of heat. They're so good that they can be eaten plain — and often are as part of antipasto platters.

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But, as Candace Jordan — who works as the director of marketing at The Buona Companies, which owns Buona Beef — told me via Zoom, one of the most obvious places to put giardiniera is on Italian beef sandwiches, another Chicago staple. 

"Italian beef is very thin-cut top sirloin that is roasted all day in its juices with traditional Italian seasonings, tons of garlic — roasting for long periods of time, so it becomes super tender," Jordan said. "It's then cooled and cut very thin. Then, its own gravy can be used for dipping or poured on top so it soaks into all the French bread that it's usually served on." 

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Their giardiniera is made with an olive oil base and has Serrano peppers, green bell peppers, celery, cauliflower, carrots and they also use green olives for a little brininess. It's part of what makes Italian beef, well, Italian beef, Jordan said. 

"It is the crunchiness with the savoriness of the beef," she said. "And then the crisp carrot mixture against the softness and sogginess of the bread. It gives this kind of all-encompassing, great profile to the sandwich." 

Jordan also said that another classic, if perhaps regionally-specific, application is using giardiniera as a pizza topping. I'm partial to giardiniera and sausage; Buona sells an Italian beef and giardiniera pizza. 

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Lauren Ocello from Twiddly Bits makes her own giardiniera, as well — which uses a fresh dill and coriander seed pickle brine — and, like me, is pretty liberal in her use of it. She said, "My first suggestion when people ask how would you serve this is always, 'With a fork.'" 

According to Ocello, it makes a killer nacho topping in the place of pickled jalapeños or is a bright, fresh addition to breakfast sandwiches, since it can cut through the heaviness of eggs, bacon and cheese. 

"Also, I like blending it into homemade hummus or even just putting it on top of store-bought plain hummus to give it a little zing," she said. 

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Ocello also recommended using it as a base of a simple pasta salad. It was such a good idea that after we got off the phone, I immediately raided my pantry and fridge to test a couple of versions. The recipe below is flexible; change up the pasta shape, the herbs and other additions. The only non-negotiable is the giardiniera mayonnaise dressing. 

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Recipe: Giardiniera Pasta Salad 

Yields: 4 to 6 servings 

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Ingredients: 

  • 16 ounces of orecchiette, cooked and cooled 
  • 6 ounces of pancetta, cubed 
  • 1/2 cup of mayonnaise 
  • 1/2 cup of giardiniera
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of grainy mustard 
  • 1/4 Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

1. In a blender or food processor, combine the mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of giardiniera, lemon juice and mustard. Blend until completely smooth. 

2. In a large bowl, combine the orecchiette, the giardiniera mayonnaise, the remaining giardiniera, pancetta, lemon zest, parsley and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is a staff writer at Salon, specializing in culture and food.

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