I remember my first bite of Chicago Italian Beef, like it was yesterday. It was a late summer evening, and after much inquiry I had been told that one from Portillo’s was the best there was. Italian Beef, for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying, dates back to 1930’s in Chicago and consists of thinly sliced marinated roast beef, served in fluffy, squidgy white bun and topped with giardiniera; Chicago’s version of pickled veggies.
That first night I tried it I bit into thinly sliced sirloin beef deeply marinated after having been soaked in garlic and oregano flavored jus, covered with creamy melted provolone stacked into a pillowy soft Italian hoagie bun and thought this was it – I had hit the very peak of my food tasting-career. The sandwich had everything I could have ever wanted in one bite, and the star of the show was the briny, salty, crunchy Giardinieraliberally sprinkled on top.
Giardiniera (“Jar – Din – Air – Ah”) means ‘pickled vegetables’ in Italian, and made its way to Chicago via Italian immigrants. Though not dissimilar to Piccalilli (the English version) Giardiniera has a stronger vinegar and olive oil base than the British iteration. It is as popular in the Windy City as a deep-dish pizza, the cross-town classic, or putting dibs on your parking space with a folding chair. It is quintessential, classic Chicago fare, and an Italian Beef just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Given the current state of affairs we, like everyone else, have been doing a lot of cooking at home. Given these circumstances,I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce this zesty spicy relish, which takes at least 4 days to make (as any classic brine and pickling process would do). Needless to say, unless you are an essential worker – in which case we are eternally grateful for your time and talents and fortitude and you deserve the WORLD AT YOUR FEET – you’ve probably got the time. Giardiniera is the perfect side dish to wake up those taste buds. Add it to your steaks, sandwiches (or course) or simply grab some pitta and dip!
My recipe specifically is quite spicy – as I love a good kick of heat. Adjust as you like – keep the seeds in for spice, or take them out of the chilli that goes into this recipe. Flavours can start from mild and tangy notes and go all the way up to hotter than Lake Shore Drive on an August day. This is what is fun about this recipe, it takes time, and you can customize based on your audience and preferences.
Val’s Chicago-Style Giardiniera
ITEMS NEEDED FOR DAY 1
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 head cauliflower, diced
2 green peppers, diced
2 red peppers, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
6-8 chili peppers with seeds or without – depending on your heat tolerance
250ml or 1 cup salt
ITEMS NEEDED FOR DAY 2
1 jar of pitted green olives with pimentos, diced
2 tbsp. red pepper flakes (you can do less of course!)
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. mustard seeds
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. cracked black pepper
½ tbsp. celery seeds
250ml or 1 cup olive oil
250ml or 1 cup white wine vinegar
Combine cauliflower, peppers, carrots, celery, onion and chili peppers in a large bowl and mix. Sprinkle in salt and pour in cold water until the vegetables are covered. This is the brining process, now at work.
Cover and place in fridge overnight.
Take brining vegetables out of fridge, drain and rinse with cold running water.
In a separate bowl combine, olives, garlic, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, celery seeds, olive oil and vinegar and mix well.
In the larger bowl, add your rinsed vegetable mix followed by the in the olive oil spices mix.
Stir, cover and put in back into the fridge overnight.
Mix once more, before returning back to the fridge.
(Try to avoid shoveling large amounts of giardiniera into your mouth…good luck with this one)
Mix once more. “Honey, why is there only half a bowl of giardiniera left!?”
Decant whatever mixture remains into seal tight jars and keep in fridge. Giardiniera mixture will keep well for up to a week or so in the fridge- but there’s no way it you’ll let it. Pair with your favourite beef sandwiches, hot dogs (also a Chicago staple), on top of salads, with crackers and cheese… or just large amounts into your mouth.
Thanks for taking this trip down my food memory lane with me. Leave a comment on your favorite comfort food you are cooking during our time indoors. I’d love to hear, so I can cook it too!
Stay safe, stay healthy but not hungry,
Val AKA: Mrs. Pickled