Garlic (a lot of it), oil and anchovies: three ingredients make one of the most delicious sauces in the world. The...
Giardiniera, the queen of pickled vegetable mixes
Giardiniera is a traditional pickled vegetable mix from Northern Italy. It is crunchy, flavourful and very versatile; Giardiniera is the queen of the pantry. Let’s discover how it is made, how it should be eaten and how to recognise a high-quality product.
Keeping is better than tossing
Giardiniera pickled vegetable mix, like many other delicacies in our country, was born out of the need to preserve food in case of periods of food scarcity. Preserving food meant having stocks for the winter and for the coldest months of the year.
This is particularly relevant for those delicious, fresh and crunchy summer veggies. They taste amazing when they are eaten fresh, but they are quickly perishable. People all over Italy have traditionally been preserving vegetables in oil, vinegar and much more for many centuries, and the Giardiniera pickled vegetable mix is the embodiment of this traditional practice.
Did you know that the Giardiniera mix was first made in the 10th century? In the Middle Ages, it was seen as a precious staple and it was made and marketed mainly in Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. The confectioner, the person in charge of the pantry and kitchen, would select the best vegetables, cook them and pack them in jars with the right amount of oil and vinegar, to preserve their flavours for months.
The confectioner does not exist anymore, but there are luckily some companies that took over this job with the same passion. Cascina Pizzavacca, a farm located in the province of Piacenza, is an expert of Giardiniera.
In this farm, vegetables are cultivated with the greatest respect for the environment and in compliance with environmental sustainability principles; they are also processed by hand according to the best ancient traditions. The result is healthy, real and genuine products that taste like nature.
Making a Giardiniera pickled vegetable mix is actually no easy feat. It is essential to find the right balance between flavours and the right harmony between oil and vinegar. Compared to vegetables packed in oil, which contain, as the name suggests, only vegetables and oil, the Giardiniera is like a puzzle made of many different pieces, as many as the different flavours that you will find in the jar.
First of all, the vegetables. Bell peppers, onions, celery, carrots and green beans all keep their unique flavours, but they blend into an absolutely exceptional symphony of flavours. Proportions vary and, just as it should be, it is impossible to find two identical handmade jars.
Secondly, the balance between oil and vinegar. Packing food in olive oil is one of the most ancient food preservation techniques. It was already practised by ancient Romans who realised that foods could be preserved in oil, since oil prevents the ingredients from coming into contact with air, thus inhibiting bacterial growth.
And what about vinegar? Babylonians in 4,000 BC used to make it from dates or grapes and vinegar was used as a dressing, preservative or disinfectant. It was only in Rome that vinegar started to be used to preserve foods, too.
Apicius, a gourmet, cook and writer that lived between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, mentions for the first time acetaria, a vegetable and fruit salad dressed with vinegar. At that time, vegetables were eaten raw and vinegar was used to flavour them and not to preserve them, but, after all, the acetaria does not really differ from the giardiniera that much.
What is the main difference? In the case of Giardiniera, vegetables are cooked in water and vinegar. And there comes the tricky part; the different cooking times of vegetables must be respected, since they affect the end consistency. Carrots cook longer than green beans, but less than celery; cauliflower must be added before bell peppers, but after the onions.
When the vegetables are ready, they are put in jars and an oil and vinegar mix is poured all over them. It is important to keep the right proportions, in order to obtain a balanced vegetable mix: vinegar should not overpower the flavours of vegetables, but it should be strong enough to cleanse the palate.
How the proper Giardiniera should look like
The Giardiniera should be crunchy. Vegetables should be of high quality and harvested at peak ripeness. They should cook only briefly, so as to remain firm and compact.
Each vegetable should keep its own flavour. This can only be achieved if vegetables are flavourful to begin with, if they are in season and if they are properly grown. Then, oil and vinegar should be delicate enough: they should only add flavour to the veggies, and not overpower them.
The Giardiniera should feel fresh to the palate. Unlike vegetables packed in oil, the giardiniera should taste sour, to wash away the fat contained in particular foods that it is usually paired with. Lastly, a giardiniera pickled vegetable mix should be beautiful. Each vegetable should be carefully cut and each jar should include a wide range of beautiful colours.
How to serve giardiniera?
It is a must with boiled meats, another great Italian specialty. Pair it with steamed cod for a lighter dish. It tastes incredible as starter, aperitif or on a cold cut and cheese platter. Have you tried to add it to a rice salad?
Giardiniera pickled vegetable mix is a gem of our tradition. From peasant dish, to delicacy – the Giardiniera brings to the table the flavour of the healthiest vegetables and the best tradition. A real treasure!