Giardiniera (the Americanized pronunciation is something like jar-din–yair) is an Italian word that means roughly “from the garden.” It is a condiment made from fresh vegetables, chopped into small bits and used to top sandwiches and other foods. Technically it is a relish, but it is not at all like an American sweet pickle relish. And there are two basic versions: Italian-style, packed in vinegar, and Chicago-style packed in oil.
There is no single recipe for giardiniera. The exact ingredients and method vary from house to house and bottler to bottler, and it can be made from mild to hot with infinite grades in between.
In Chicago giardinera is extremely popular and can be found in all the hundreds of restaurants that serve Italian Beef Sandwiches and Italian Sausage Sandwiches where it is practically a required topping. It is in every grocery, and a jar of giardiniera can be found in the door of every Italian American fridge in Chicago.
In New Orleans it is used to top muffuletta sandwiches and on nachos at sports stadia. It can also be used on meatball sandwiches, mortadella, bologna, and practically any other sandwich. Some folks serve it straight with antipasto, straight as a salad, on a salad, in soups or in sauces. Rachael Ray puts it on pasta, and I know of people who use it on scrambled eggs.
There are basically two styles. This recipe is the Italian fresh from the garden version which is a simple jar of chopped fresh veggies with oil, vinegar, and salt. The other style is the shelf stable version like the process used for commercial giardiniera. It is made by salting the veggies aggressively overnight, rinsing, soaking in vinegar, rinsing, packing in oil with oregano, and sterile bottling with heat.
Think of giardiniera as more of a topping than a relish. Relish is too confining a term for this adaptable condiment. Below is my homemade recipe, heavily influenced by a recipe taught to me by my sister-in-law Theresa Tortorello. She is an accomplished Italian American home cook who learned her recipes at the aprons of her immigrant family’s women. She makes a large quantity of her Italian-style giardiniera in August using the bounty of her garden.
A popular commercial Chicago brand, Dell’Alpe, is simply serrano peppers, celery, green olives, and spices. First they pickle everything in salt and vinegar, drain, submerge the pickled veggies in oil, and heat pasteurize to prevent botulism. The people who make Marconi brand and the giardiniera for the Portillos restaurants, famous for Chicago Hot Dogs and Italian Beef Sandwiches, use the same ingredients but they add cauliflower and carrots. Pagliaci adds capers. Some kick it up with hot peppers.
Theresa and I like lotsa stuff in it. I add onions, garlic, sweet bell peppers, zucchini, and fennel bulbs. You can increase or decrease ingredients to your taste. If you can’t find fennel bulbs, skip them. Want more garlic, go for it. Love pain, add Scotch bonnets. I recommend you start with my recipe and then, after aging it a few days, you can add more ingredients if you wish. My recipe is more Italian-style. It uses vinegar to make sure it is low enough in pH (acidic) to discourage microbial growth. It can be stored in the fridge for several weeks. Packing in oil is risky because botulism loves this environment, and scrubbing the veggies is just not good enough to pasteurize them.
Giardinera can also be sterile canned if you know how. For more info on sterile canning go to the Ball jar company website FreshPreserving.com.
Serve with: a sandwich, pasta, and more.
Published On: 9/6/2013 Last Modified: 4/16/2021