Smile Politely

The art of Giardiniera

There were so many things I wished that I had paid more attention to when I was growing up. I always thought that there would be plenty of time to learn how to make noodles and pie crust from scratch, as well as grape jelly that sparkled like amethyst. Then the person that I counted on to teach me these things was gone.

Like many families, our food traditions weren’t always written down. Those that were, were often just lists of ingredients with no instructions. They offered no more help than last week’s grocery list.

Last month when doctors thought my aunt had Alzheimer’s, I wanted to kick myself all over again. Why didn’t I spend more time learning about her, my mom, and the food they used to make together?

Thankfully, she does not have Alzheimer’s and there is still time to learn these things, including how to make the giardiniera that she and my mom would spend hours cutting vegetables for and canning at the end of the season.

Giardiniera varies tremendously depending upon whether you are in Italy or Chicago. The Italian version contains onions, celery, carrots, cauliflower, and sometimes zucchini pickled in vinegar. It is used as an antipasto or eaten with salads. In Chicago, it is a condiment that is used to top sandwiches, usually “Italian” beef. The Chicago version also uses carrots, cauliflower, and celery, sometimes olives, but most notably it contains peppers. The peppers can be sweet bells, or hotter varieties like serranos, spicy cherry peppers, or even habaneros. Unlike the Italian version, the vegetables in Chicago giardiniera are marinated in olive oil or vegetable oil, or a combination of the two.

I love both types, but my mother and her sister always made the Italian version, albeit with the spicy peppers they fell in love with when they lived in Chicago in their teens.

There is beautiful cauliflower from Moore Family Farm at the market right now, sweet carrots from Blue Moon Farm, and celery from Claybank Farm. For those who dare, there also are plenty of hot peppers to be had. These directions make six pints. But, you can scale the recipe down if you just want a single jar for your fridge. Be sure to let the vegetables marinate in the jar for three weeks so that you get the full flavor.

However, if your family ate Chicago giardiniera, you’ll probably want to check out this recipe instead.


  • 2 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch lengths
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 to 1 ½ pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1 to 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/16-inch thick rounds
  • 1 cup peeled whole small onions, aka cocktail onions
  • 1/2 pound Italian whole sweet or hot cherry peppers, left whole but slit twice lengthwise (use a milder variety of jalapeno if you can’t find these)
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • Oregano sprigs (optional)
  • 4 t kosher salt
  • 2 3/4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 2 1/2 cups water

Wash the vegetables. Sprinkle celery with 1 teaspoon of the salt and allow to stand 1 to 2 hours to help set color and firm. Drain. Combine celery with remaining vegetables in a large bowl. Add 2 garlic cloves to each of six, sterile pint jars. Pack the jars with the vegetables, adding an oregano sprig to each jar if desired. Shake the jars to settle the vegetables.

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring vinegar, water and 4 teaspoons of salt to a boil, making sure that the salt is dissolved. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top of the jar. Wipe jar rims. Seal with sterile lids and rings. Place sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes making sure that water level is above lids.

Remove jars from water bath and allow them to cool. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for at least three weeks.

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