Giardiniera (Italian Pickled Vegetables)

>> Friday, June 29, 2012

Giardiniera (Italian Pickled Vegetables)

When my girls were little, one of our favorite treats was Sammie's Hot Dog stand in Grayslake, a far north suburb of Chicago. This casual little place used to be a summer food stand for the lake resort crowd but grew into a year-round place that also served thousands at the County Fair. Their hot dogs were the authentic Chicago-style kind, but I liked their savory Italian Beef sandwiches even better. Plenty of au jus, and a side of pickled giardiniera (some people spell this jardiniera) that was big enough to last me for a couple more meals after the sandwich was long gone.I especially liked to sprinkle giardiniera on my macaroni and cheese.

Since then I've branched out to taste many other Italian beef places. Chicago is full of them. Al's Beef on West Taylor Street was named Chicago's #1, but I must have gone there on an off-day after classes at UIC, because I wasn't impressed at all. I'm going to have to give them a second chance.

The Portillos sandwich chain has never disappointed me. I used to work near enough to one that my coworkers and I would sometimes go out to lunch there, and I'd inevitably come back to work with some splashes on my clothes. The chain has the added attraction of watching the fastest sandwich-makers in the world build your food as you move along the cafeteria line.

Carm's Beef and Italian Ice is another winner in the same area of Little Italy - this one is on Polk Street. They use Turano's soft rolls, the spiced beef is sliced just right, and they dip the sandwich into gravy for the perfect amount of time. Mr. Beef on Orleans is a favorite with celebrities and also gets a lot of reviews, rightfully so. The link to their site takes you to a wealth of sandwich information and a place to order their beef if you're far from home and jonesing for a sandwich.

It's hard to choose between big strips of sweet sauteed peppers and giardiniera on these sandwiches, but I'm sticking with the hot pickled veggies for this post. Around here, one of the most famous brands of giardiniera is Scala's, originally made by South Side immigrants of the Scala family. It's pretty easy to find in grocery stores.

My version of this is based off a Chicago Tribune article and the delicious version from the blog The Paupered Chef. I don't know if Italians make and eat this mixture in Italy; I didn't see any while I was traveling there, but we didn't go farther south than Rome. In any case, Joe and I like this condiment on eggs, bread, sandwiches, or with anything else we're craving a hot/sour tang.



7 jalapenos, thinly sliced (for hot giardiniera, use serranos)
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1/2 cup salt

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup Canola oil


Place vegetables into a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Cover the vegetables with water and allow to sit for 4 hours or overnight. Drain the vegetables.

Set the oil aside. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Pack veggies tightly into pint jars. Pour 1/4 cup of oil into each jar. Ladle the vinegar/seasoning mixture into the jars until full, tapping to release air bubbles. Allow 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the edges of the jars and seal them hand-tight.

Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Check seals and tighten lids, if necessary, before storing. Allow the jars to marinate for a few days before using.

Makes approximately 4 pints.

Note: if you choose not to process these jars in a canner, they will last for several weeks in the refrigerator.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Too-Hot-To-Cook Veggie Pizza

>> Monday, June 25, 2012

Too-Hot-To-Cook Veggie pizzaThis recipe has been around for a while, but it's still an easy favorite for me and my daughter to make together. We first tasted this when a dear friend brought it to a potluck as an appetizer and shared the recipe all around. When Jessie moved into her first apartment and asked for recipes for her favorite foods, I bought her a cookbook and hand-wrote the recipes she loved best, including this one.

On my birthday this year, Jessie came over for the day and we made this together, then ate it while watching "Bridesmaids". Honestly, there were a couple of really awkward parts of the movie to watch with a 25 year old daughter, but we became very interested in our lunch until those scenes passed. Luckily we have the kind of relationship where we can share these things, which is what I always hoped for someday.

This is an easy dinner to make when it's too hot to cook, because it only requires a few minutes in the oven and then it cools in the fridge.

Cool Veggie Pizza


1 tube of crescent rolls
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup red pepper, chopped
1 cup broccoli, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup black olives, sliced
(add any other chopped vegetables that you like)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


Unroll the cresecent roll dough and flatten into a greased 9x11 pan, pressing the dough up the sides of the pan and sealing the pre-cut seams between each roll. Bake the dough according to the package directions until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Mix together the cream cheese, mayo, and ranch seasoning. Spread on top of the crust in the pan.  Sprinkle with all the veggies and top with the shredded cheese. Refrigerate before serving.

Serves 4-6


Why you should try Caribbean Banana Ketchup

>> Tuesday, June 19, 2012

 Why try it?
  • You get an authentic taste of the Caribbean islands, which were once called the West Indies
  • You'll surprise your friends with a unique marinade for pork, poultry, or fish
  • You'll have a new way to use up those bananas that are getting just a little too ripe
  •  You 'll like this new condiment with plain old fries, chips, raw veggies, or burgers.

Lunch in St. Lucia
 In 2007, my family went on a week-long cruise in the Caribbean. We started in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and visited St. Thomas, St. John, St. Lucia, Barbados, and Dominica. At each stop, groups of us tried ziplining, river tubing, relaxing in hot springs, visiting open air markets, and jet skiing; over dinner, we shared our day and then went to shows or danced in one of the discos (my parents were the best dancers!). For me, one of the best parts of the trip was snorkeling with sea turtles in Barbados on my birthday!

Beach in St. John

The food in the Caribbean is fabulous and sometimes strange to the average Midwestern American. Among these foods was banana ketchup, a condiment on most restaurant tables and often for sale in shops. Baron's ketchup, made in St. Lucia, seemed to be the favored brand. I tried it on some potatoes and was intrigued by the sweet/sour combination with spices like cinnamon and cayenne. The taste and appearance is different from tomato ketchup, but once you try this sauce, you might become hooked!

Caribbean Banana Ketchup recipe


8 large overripe bananas, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
4 large garlic cloves
2/3 cup tomato paste
2 ½ cups cider vinegar
4 cups water
1/2 cup dark molasses
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 teaspoon ground cloves
4 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup dark rum

Add the raisins, onions, garlic, tomato paste and 1/2 cup of vinegar to a blender or food processor. Puree until very smooth. Pour the mixture into a large pot.

Add the banana chunks and another 1/2 cup of vinegar to the food processor or blender. Process the mixture until very smooth. Add mixture to the saucepan. Stir in the rest of the vinegar, 3 cups of water, molasses, salt and cayenne pepper.

Bring the mixture a boil, stirring frequently, and then reduce the heat. Simmer uncovered until the sauce is very thick, approximately one hour. Stir occasionally. If the sauce begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, add some of the remaining water, up to one cup.

Add the corn syrup, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and cloves. Cook the ketchup, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes longer over medium heat. Stir in the rum. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool.

Strain the mixture well through a colander or sieve. If using the ketchup fresh, remove the ketchup from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Store it in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to 1 month.

If canning the sauce, ladle hot mixture into pint jars, leaving 1/8-inch headspace. Dampen a kitchen towel and wipe around the rims of the canning jars. Screw the canning lids onto the jar just until finger-tight. Process 20 minutes in a canner. Cool completely before checking seal and storing.

Yield: 4-5 Pints

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
This recipe was featured in my book The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Greek Summer Salad

>> Saturday, June 16, 2012

Greek Summer Salad

It's been a hot month so far in Chicagoland. It's dry as dust one day and muggy the next. I've been whipping up healthy main-dish salads so that I heat up the kitchen as little as possible. This is a hearty salad that I adore on steamy nights.

I don't have a Greek story to tell along with this recipe, since a trip to Greece is on our life list but neither Joe nor I have been there yet. However, I have had a mania for Greek stories and mythology.

When I was young, I remember reading a young adult novel set in Greece. A young shepherdess lived on one of the rocky islands in Greece and every day her family sent her in a rowboat to another island to tend the goats. Her lunch was a hunk of bread, some cheese, and a handlful of grapes, and I asked my mom if I could eat that every day for lunch while I was reading this story. One day on the island, the girl met a centaur or a faun that had been hiding there ever since the days of ancient mythology. He became the lonely girl's friend, until his life was in peril when the islanders discovered her secret.

I have no idea what the book was called or who wrote it, but if you've heard of this story, could you email me the title so I can read it again? It enchanted me at the time.

Greek Summer Salad


1 head butter or loose-leaf lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
5 tomatoes, chopped
2 cucumbers, chopped
2 cans pitted black olives

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 pound summer sausage, chopped

For the dressing

2/3 cup olive oil
2 cups red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh Greek oregano, minced
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp Dijon mustard


Whisk together dressing ingredients and allow to sit at least 1 hour at room temperature. Toss together the vegetables and refrigerate until ready to serve. Toss in the feta and sausage right before serving, so that they keep their texture. I like to serve the dressing on the side, because any leftovers will store better without the dressing mixed in. You'll probably have some dressing left over, too.

Serves 4-6

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