I got a real hoot (yup, said it) out of Molly’s entry a few weeks ago as her significant other and mine are clearly plucked from similar brine, that is, packed with a penchance for the pickled. (I’ll be here all week.)

One of the first big family events Alex took me to shortly after we began dating was a 55th birthday party for his father, no small affair, at a Russian restaurant. Course after course, platters arrived with pickled celery, lettuce and – I kid you not – watermelon to accompany the smoked fish, dumplings, caviar and all sorts of gamey meats. Do I need to mention the vodka? No, didn’t think so.

Nobody warns you that the food will not.stop.coming, thusly, don’t bother eating more than two bites of any course if you wish to make it to the end. I think its part of the fun for them, luring these newcomers in and watching them nod off at the table after too many sour cream-laden crepes and a misbegotten belief that they can handle their vodka like those from the old country. In fact, one of his family’s favorite stories to retell is when Alex brought home a friend from grad school and his mother laid out her typical 20-dish, 6-course feast (“I am worried I will not have enough food.”) including their favorite, pickled tomatoes. The friend had bragged that he couldn’t wait to try them, as they sounded delicious, but nearly spat his first bite across the table: “I didn’t know it was going to taste like a pickle!” he frantically tried to cover his tracks with while they laughed and laughed.

One of Alex’s favorite cured delights is giardiniera, which he buys in large jars and eats at a frightening pace, so when I saw a recipe for it in this month’s Gourmet (which has unintentionally become my muse of late), I promptly asked my husband what any eager-to-please-and-spoil wife would:

“What will you give me if I make this for you?”
“Alex, it looks like a lot of work.”
“I’ll do the dishes?”
“It’s going to take hours, Alex.”
“I’ll clean the nasty stains out of the microwave?”

I should have bargained higher, I mean, at least up to scrubbing the bathroom grout or a spa pedicure, because I had no idea that boiling vinegar would nearly cease my lungs’ operations. Irony of ironies, Alex’s 84 year-old Russian grandmother, in town for just another day, had chosen that morning to climb up to our fourth-floor penthouse (ha) so she could see where we lived (I was convinced she was actually looking for evidence of sloth, and demanded we clean for hours prior), and there I am, coughing my head off from a smell I’m certain is lodged deep in her sensory memory. Sadly, she speaks no English and I speak no Russian, so she was unable to impart any advice to me on what to do to not, well, die, when preparing your pickling liquids. (Though I suppose “Why don’t you open some goddamned windows in this here joint?” shouldn’t have been so hard to translate.) To note, in case you’ve missed everything up until now in this From Russia, With Love tale: steamy vinegar is no friend to lungs.

giardiniera 2

Alex waited like a good, patient boy for the whole day and a half of vegetable pickling, never so much a sneaking a nibble. It was like I didn’t know him at all. At the great giardiniera unveiling last night, he gave his wholehearted seal of briny approval, saying it tastes even better than the jarred stuff.

“Boo-ya! Success! Huzzah!” I exclaimed and proceeded in my victory lap around the kitchen.

“Now, about that microwave.”

giardiniera 3

Giardiniera (Pickled Vegetables)
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2006

Makes about 10 cups

For pickling liquid:
2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
3 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes

For vegetables:
1 head cauliflower (2 lb), trimmed and broken into 1- to 1 1/2-inch florets (6 cups)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices (2 cups)
4 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-thick slices (3 cups)
1 cup drained bottled whole peperoncini (4 oz)
1 cup large brine-cured greens olives (preferably Sicilian; 6 oz)*
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives (6 oz)

Prepare pickling liquid: Bring pickling-liquid ingredients to a boil in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan** over moderate head, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a 4-quart nonreactive bowl and cool about 30 minutes.

Cook vegetables: Bring about 6 quarts unsalted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot. Have ready a large bowl of ice and cold water. Add cauliflower to pot and boil until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to ice bath to stop cooking. Cook remaining vegetables separately in same manner, allowing 4 minutes each for bell peppers*** and carrots and 2 minutes for celery. Drain vegetables in a colander and spread out on 2 large kitchen towls to dry. Add cooked vegetables, peperoncini, and olives to pickling liquid, Weight vegetables with a plate to keep them submerged, then chill, covered, at least 1 day.

Do ahead: Pickled vegetables keep, covered and chilled, 1 week.

* Omitted, as the Husband prefers his pickled vegetables sans olives, and we aim to please here.
** Stainless steel, glass, and enameled cast iron are nonreactive; avoid pure aluminum and uncoated iron, which can impart an unpleasant taste to recipes with acidic ingredients.
*** I’d probably only simmer the bell peppers for 3, instead of 4, minutes next time as they got soft very quickly.

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28 comments on giardiniera

  1. Funny AND inspirational, what a post! I’ve got at least 20 recipes from the September issue but missed this one. Did it really take that long (not that Alex should get out of microwave duty …). thanks for the inspiration! AK

  2. deb

    It did not take terribly long, but like a lot of fellow city-dwellers with tiny kitchens, I lack the ablity to scale. So with 10 cups of vegetables in separate bowls, a large pot of boiling water, a large bowl of cooling pickling liquid (with a lid on, to keep the steam from suffocating us), a large bowl of ice water, a large colander and two kitchen towels laid out, it was a *bit* of a mess. (I have only about 3 sq. ft. of counter space, so I still can’t figure out how I pulled it off.)

    I’d do it again, though. The results are worth it. (Or will be, ahem, after the, ahem, is cleaned.)

  3. Ah ha! Another pickle-obsessed significant other, I see! Your Alex and my Brandon are clearly two peas in a pod. I wonder – does Alex dislike olives in general, or only in his pickles? If he is generally anti-olive, I think that he and Brandon may well be the same person…

  4. Tree

    Very interesting…I’d never heard of giardiniera. Was Alex not able to translate for you and his grandma–I have always assumed he was bilingual (hence your Russian classes)? I’ll bet she’d have some great tips!

  5. deb

    Molly – Phew, I think they are separate folks as Alex loves olives, just strangely, not in his gariniera. Picky, this one. (Though no match for my mile-long list of idiosyncracies.) I think we need to try those pickled onions next.

    Tree – Frankly, your guess is almost as good as mine what with Alex’s grasp of Russian. I know he understands it, and occasionally utters a perfectly-accened Russian word, but he says he doesn’t speak it. My interest in speaking Russian was mostly for the family and friends; when they get together, everyone speaks Russian and well, being self-absorbed as I am, I am certain they must be talking about me – heh. Um, also it would be nice to join the conversation once in a while.

  6. ann

    I have a serious pickle obsession myself, and I’ve concocted a way to sate my needs without burning my lungs out…. refrigerator pickles.
    Basically, you can lightly pickle anything by placing them in a really strong brine in the fridge for a few days (or a few hours)
    you just have to be sure to eat them quickly (within two weeks) to avoid any creepy bacterias from growing in there, which shouldn’t be a problem judging from Alex’s briney proclivities :-)

  7. megan

    ann- my mom and my grandma make refridgerator pickles, and they are excellent…and you can eat them right away instead of having to wait for them to reach maximum flavor (which generally results in my forgetting that they are sitting in the pantry until months later). Being an olive-and-or-anything-pickled-under-the-sun obsessive, I actually have an entire shelf in my fridge dedicated to pickled products, which my boyfriend loathes! Hey- what would a bloody mary be if not for the eight different varieties of pickled veggies?

    Deb- I LOVE the new website, but you definitely have to keep sharing stories of the more personal variety…I’ll be so bored at work without the “Tards from 5F”…what am I to do?? (oh yeah…I guess I could be productive!?!) :o)

  8. megan

    PS- I am sooo happy that you are on a Gourmet magazine kick right now…I accidently let my subscription run out, and was extremely sad. Your site is holding me over- and your pictures are way better and more appealing anyways!

  9. Dave

    I’m slightly late in posting here, but I happened to notice a giardiniera picture on a recent article and had to search to find where you’d made it.

    Giardiniera is very popular in chicago, as we shove it into many of our foods (hot dogs, and italian beef). I’d love to someday see an italian beef recipe show up on smitten :) I won’t hold my breath though.

  10. nee

    could i…pour the pickling liquid over the veggies and into a jar, then process the jar in hot water and store the veggies for a few weeks? i’m not an expert pickler but i love the recipe and want to make it in bulk and keep jars on hand or give them away.

  11. Hi, there!

    Just wanted to say thanks for this recipe. I’ve made it about 5 times so far, so it’s about time I should show you some love for posting it!

    I made it at a 4th of July party for an antipasto platter and it was a huge hit with the in-laws. That time, I added radishes (they turn white, the red comes off!) and some hot peppers to one of the jars (dad and brothers-in laws LOVED it, they love spicyness). I also add a bay leaf all the time (how can a bay leaf be bad?!?!)
    I just made them again for Sunday’s superbowl party and they smell good… I’ll taste them tomorrow. I like how they turn out like the ones in the italian food section of the grocery store. It’s much less expensive to make my own!

    I served them with the sliced mushrooms from here and just smashed the cloves of garlic (rachel ray style!) with the side of the knife. I also added a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme.

    Thanks again!

  12. esskay

    nee: (I realize I am replying years later, but) Yes, you can! It will keep for months if you have canned properly and the seal on your jar is not compromised. It is better the longer you let it sit.

    I made a spicy mix using hot peppers from my garden, and it was delicious.

    You do miss out on vinegar-scalded lungs, however…

  13. Amanda

    Loved the story, love the pictures…..however the idea of eating pickeled celery makes me gag. I’m sure my Ukranian grandmother is rolling in her grave.

  14. Carl LaFong

    I find pickling takes some of the crunchiness out of the vegetables. I brine the processed vegetables overnight, rinse, then add garlic, oregano, seasoned salt and some dill. Incorporate in the 5 gallon bucket, stuff in sanitized, quart Mason jars, add 1/2 canola oil and 1/2 white vinegar, lid and refrigerate. Lasts indefinitely and tastes outstanding.

  15. I found a new use for these pickled Vegetables. A restaurant in Houston chops some up mixes with a little olive oil And I’m sure a little salt and pepper And they use this as a topping for bruschetta I can’t wait to try your recipe and use it for a topping.

  16. Keisha

    I just wanted to know what types if food do you eat with Giardiniera? A friend of mine made me some and I don’t really know what to eat with it. Thanks in advance.

    1. deb

      Keisha — It’s typically eaten as an antipasto or with other salads, a kind of pre-meal spread that might include cured meats, other pickles and marinated vegetables and salads.

  17. Deb-You are a hoot! Thanks for the recipe! I can’t wait to try it. I have been reading a lot of Giardiniera recipes because “Hello, my name is Hope, and I am a Pickleholic”. There is an entire section of the refrigerator dedicated to food items of the pickled persuasion. After complaining for the umpteenth time about the price of my pickled paraphernalia, my husband Scott suggested I start pickling my own. (He is very encouraging when thinking up new projects for me that allow him more time for watching sports on TV). I will post again after completing my assignment.
    Еще раз спасибо, и я поговорю с вами в ближайшее время!

  18. Darn you! I made this last October, gave jars to 3 friends. Since then all Ive heard is ‘That was soooo good! When are you going to make some again?’. I did save a jar for my self, hid it at the back of my fridge and finished it on New Year’s Day- very good with pulled pork sandwich, btw! Maybe I can get away with ‘I lost the recipe’? LOL

  19. Cathy Brown

    This looks great! I must tell you that whenever I am searching for a recipe online, and see that you (Smitten Kitten) have one, I always go you your link first.

    I have never had a failure with any of the recipes you post. And that is practically a miracle considering how many disastrous dishes I have made from something I’ve found online. Even Martha Stewart and the NYT posts have resulted in stuff that not even the dog would eat!

    So thank you so much for researching and testing so very well. I really appreciate your time and effort!

  20. Julia Zolotarev

    Hi Deb,

    Do you mind sharing the name of the restaurant? My family is planning my grandfather’s 90th birthday and are looking for ideas! It must be Russian of course.

    Thank you!!

  21. jen808

    I made this specifically as a topping for drip beef sandwiches. The acidic crunch was a perfect compliment to the rich beef and melty cheese.
    It’s delicious! I added green beans and a few cloves of whole garlic. Next time I will cook the veggies for a shorter time to preserve more crunch.

  22. Alan Holck

    Chicago-area native here – And this is my go-to recipe.

    FYI, you can use frozen veggies as they are already cut to size and blanched as a part of the freezing process. I also cut the sugar in half to 3/8 cup, but that is just personal preference.

  23. Colleen

    Hi Deb – just got back from Italy and am dying to make my own pickled vegetables. To avoid the stench of boiling vinegar, do you think it would work to boil the water, add the salt, mustard seeds, and chili peppers, stirring until dissolved, remove it from the bear, and then add the vinegar?