Christmas at my sister’s beach house was a foodie feast. I often come away with ideas for a couple of blog posts, like baked nectarines from a few years back and apricot upside down cake. This time it was giardiniera, a feature of several meals over our Christmas break, served in its garlicky oil, accompanied by bread to mop up all that delicious olive oil. What I love so much about this version is that after the vegetables are pickled in a not-too sugary vinegar, they are stored in excellent quality extra virgin olive oil, giving the vegetable pieces a lovely balanced flavour. The recipe is based on one by Pietro Demaio, a Melbourne medical doctor of Calabrian origins who has written and self-published a preserving book (bible!) called Preserving the Italian Way.
Pietro lives up the road from me. He can occasionally be found having coffee at a nearby cafe, at a table on the footpath, chatting with several Italian men, much like he was in a piazza at an Italian bar. I stop to say hello; he asks me about how my pasta making is going, and I ask him about a preserving recipe. His book is full of stories about his friends and their traditional recipes for preserving everything from salami, to vegetables.
My itch to preserve vegetables in particular has been brought on by my terrace garden, the one I nurtured during lockdown and was able to maintain over this cool and wet summer. I have been enjoying handfuls of long narrow burpless cucumbers, bowls of cherries tomatoes, half a dozen zucchini and quite a few of its yellow flowers, silverbeet left over from winter which continues to grow (albeit slowly) and soon, the long yellow peppers. I grew the latter from seedlings and they are being wildly productive. On last count there were almost 40 peppers, some almost 15 cm long, though they are still very green. They will probably ripen all at once and then I will pull out my copy of “Preserving the Italian way” to find a way to preserve them.
The mix of vegetables in the giardiniera is up to you. I added what I had in the fridge to my batch. My sister loves adding button mushrooms. Radishes could work well, and celeriac too. Add the cut pieces of the vegetables to the vinegary brine according to size and hardness: golden shallots first, then carrot/fennel/celery and like vegetables, and softer vegetables like zucchini last. You don’t want the vegetables to be over-cooked; they should be quite firm but not crunchy.
In other news…. I recorded a podcast with the lovely Annalisa from Signorina Melbourne last year, which she has just published. Her podcast series is called Signorina Talks. We had a chat about growing up Italian in Melbourne and the food of North Eastern Italy. Click here to have a listen to our very fun chat.
A reminder that I am now running cooking classes, both online and in person. Click here for an overview and here for the date schedule and to purchase tickets.
If you make the giardiniera, please let me know how you go by commenting below or tagging me on Instagram.
sweet red chillis
enough to fill 2 x 600ml jars
To make the brine:
2 litres white wine vinegar
1 litre water
2 and a half tablespoons sugar
1 and a half tablespoons salt
2 fresh bay leaves
For the jar:
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 long sweet chilli, finely sliced
a few sprigs fresh oregano or thyme
whole black peppercorns
Start by preparing your vegetables. Peel and/or wash the vegetables and cut into pieces. You can chop the vegetables into pieces that are whatever size is convenient; just don’t make them too small. They should be eaten in one or two bites. Sometimes the quantity is over what I need, so I have an extra sterilised jar just in case and enough EVOO should I need it.
Place two (or more) clean mason jars in the oven at 100C for 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and leat the jars sit in there until needed.
Place the brine ingredients in a large saucepan on medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring so that that the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the vegetables, one type at a time. I add the golden shallots first (as they are the largest and take the longest to cook), then bring that back to the boil and cook for a minute. Then add the carrots, wait about 30 seconds, then the cauliflower, the fennel and so on. The vegetables should be just tender, and still have some crunch, so don’t let the whole lot cook for more than 8 or so minutes in total. The vegetable pieces will continue to cook as they are cooling so don’t let them cook too long! Remove from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place on a clean tea towel on a tray and pat dry.
Peel and slice the garlic, wash and pat dry the fresh herbs. Place a bit of EVOO in the base of one jar, a slice of garlic, a few slices chilli, a small sprig of herbs and a few whole peppercorns. Place the vegetables in the jar, occasionally adding another slice of garlic, more chill slices, sprigs of herbs and peppercorns until the jar is full. Don’t leave too much space between the vegetables. Fill the jar with EVOO so that the vegetables are covered and seal. Repeat with the remaining vegetables and second jar.
Once the jars are cool, place in the fridge. They will keep for about a month. Use leftover olive oil in your salad (or just mop it up with some bread as you go).