It can be somewhat entertaining to watch the unfamiliar trying to spell or pronounce the word giardiniera. Fortunately, it’s easier to say than to spell. Don’t look at the spelling of the word, just say it, nice and easy: jar-din-AIR-ah. Some Chicagoans will drop that last syllable, saying something more like jar-din-AIR. It’s the same thing and it’s delicious.
This is the go-to condiment for Chicagoland lovers of Italian beef, Italian sausage, and meatball sandwiches, to say nothing of Italian submarine sandwiches, pizza and more. Loosely translated the word means “from the garden” in Italian. You will find giardiniera in stores all over Italy, but it won’t be the same thing you find here. According to a Chicago Tribune article, what they call giardiniera consists of larger chunks of pickled vegetables, usually packed in vinegar and better suited to serving on a platter than on a sandwich. The Chicago variety, by comparison, is intended to be used as a condiment or relish. And while the veggies are indeed pickled, they are most often packed in oil.
What kind of veggies? The recipe can vary greatly from one brand to another, but frequently includes hot and/or mild peppers, celery, carrots, pitted green olives, and other vegetables (cauliflower, pimento, etc.) mixed with a spice blend and covered in a stable salad oil. Most hot versions include sliced or chopped “sport” peppers, a variety of small, medium-hot chiles that are often found whole on a Chicago-style hot dog—but that’s a story for another time. Most times when we order an Italian beef sandwich with “hot peppers,” at least around here, the sandwich is served with hot giardiniera.
Here’s a quick tip: If you are applying hot giardiniera to your own sandwich, you can somewhat control the heat by regulating how much oil you allow to go on your food. The oil captures the oil-like compound capsaicin from the hot peppers. You want a little more heat? Let the oil go on your sandwich along with the veggies. Less heat? Let the oil run off before putting the veggies on your food. It’s all relative, though. Don’t expect miracles.
Outside of Chicagoland, you might not find many choices of giardiniera from which to choose. We don’t have that dilemma here. Quite the opposite, in fact,. As evidence we invite you to step into the giardiniera aisle at any of our Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets locations. There you will find an array of brands and varieties broad enough to satisfy any giardiniera lover’s appetite and quite possibly overwhelm the faint of heart.
We’ll make it easy for you, though. Try our very own La Bella Romana brand of hot or mild giardiniera. Packed exclusively for us and available only from Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets, our giardiniera is very flavorful and also provides a crunchier texture than do many other shelf brands, which tend to be a little soft from processing. Whether you’re new to giardiniera or a seasoned pro, give La Bella Romana a try. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.