Where's The Giardiniera?
On Thursday, I'm bringing a big Muffuletta sandwich to work for a Carnival pot-luck lunch, and for that, I need some Giardiniera Sauce. My hunt for a great Salsa Giardiniera in Chicago would take 1.5 minutes and begin and end in just about any grocery store. Here in Italy, the purported home of the stuff, it's gotten a little more complicated. I have to admit to being usually judgmental of people who shy away from foreign food favoring the U.S. chain restaurant version. I want raw onion and cilantro on my al pastor tacos, not shredded lettuce and tomato. I want my spaghetti alla bolognese to be more than just tomato sauce with hamburger.
All that notwithstanding, I have to say after almost 4 years living in Italy, a few Italian-American products far surpass their cousins from the Old Country. "Italian Sausage", "Italian Beef" and case in point, Giardiniera sauce (pronounced in Chicago as /jar-din-AIR/). Back home we spoon a little of this sauce of chopped raw vegetables in spiced vinegar and oil over our Italian Beef Sandwiches, meatball sandwiches and our Italian subs. It can be hot or mild but it always has a certain hard-to-define anise-y oregano-y flavor that I can't get enough of. Oh and the vegetables are beside the point; you can't even taste the difference between a Giardiniera carrot and a Giardiniera cauliflower. What you taste is an excellent balance between rich oil, zingy vinegar, hot peppers and savory spices.
Again, as in my thwarted search for "Italian sausage" in Italy, maybe I'm just in the wrong region. Maybe Calabria is full of great Giardiniera. Today at the market, I at least got one seller to corroborate that something called Giardiniera with cauliflower, carrots, celery, hot peppers, green olives, spices and oil and vinegar does exist, and that it indeed comes from Calabria. So at least I'm not crazy.
I toyed with the idea of making my own Giardiniera but a lengthy online forum conversation about making your own Giardiniera vegetables under oil and the botulism that could result has swayed me from that culianry adventure. I've challenged the gods of botulism enough times this year. So I ended up buying this jar of "antipasto ricco" which is more or less the aforementioned veggies in a simple vinegar, oil and salt solution. I took it home and added red pepper flakes, dried basil (hoping to get an anise-y effect), and dried oregano. Wish me luck.