Anyway, one of the many things the Sicilians did well was aperitivo hour. Rather than the groaning all-you-can-eat buffet favoured in the north of Italy, a drink before dinner in Sicily was accompanied by a small snack of olives, chips and pickles. My favourite bit was the pickle, which I’ve subsequently found is called ‘giardiniera.’ In Catania particularly, these salty, sweet bowls of pickled carrots, cauliflower and celery were so great with a drink that I promised myself I’d keep the aperitivo spirit alive when I got back home. With a bottle of Campari on the shelf and a jar of these in the fridge I’d be livin’ la dolce vita 4 life. Sadly, when I got home the dream got sucked into the work/normal life machine and I never gave the pickles another thought.
That was, until I saw some jars of giardiniera at a deli a while back. But something wasn’t right with the packaged version. The poor vegetables looked mushy and there were no herbs, ‘this giardiniera stinks!’ I said to myself. So, I did the only thing a person with a giardiniera sized hole in their life does; I made my own.
It’s incredibly easy to make a good one. You just blanch the vegetables, then soak them in the pickling liquid. The only thing you need to worry about is overcooking the vegetables. Mushiness is the enemy of a good giardiniera. So, you must have a bowl or sink full of icy water at hand, ready to plunge the just cooked vegetables into, to stop the cooking. (You may also need one of these pictured above ridgy cutters, like I did because I love the way it cuts carrots.) Apart from that, this is a simple, addictive and handsome pickle. Seriously, have you ever seen modest carrots and cauliflowers look so charming? They’re not trying to fool you either, they taste as good as they look.
Broccoli is pictured in my version but to be honest, it turned out kind of gross, all mushy and insipidly coloured. Also, I thought the bell pepper was unnecessary, so I’ve left them both of the ingredient list. Stick with just celery, carrot, cauliflower and olives and you’ll be fine. Makes about 8 cups.
1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
4 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
3 sticks of celery, sliced
2 large green chillies, sliced into rounds
1 cup of green olives, preferably Sicilian
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 cups of water
3 cups of white wine vinegar
3/4 of a cup of white sugar
6 tablespoons of salt
1. Bring a pot of unsalted water to the boil and have a bowl of iced water ready. Blanch the cauliflower for 3 minutes, then refresh in the iced water. The carrots and celery should take two minutes to blanch, then a refresh as well.
2. Drain all of the vegetables and lay them out on a large tea towel to dry.
3. While they are drying, make the pickling liquid. Put the water, vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and salt in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and let it simmer away for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and set aside for half an hour to cool.
4. Once the vegetables are dry, place them in a big pot and pour the pickling liquid over. Add the olives, chilli, bay leaves and garlic. If there’s not enough liquid, to cover all of the vegetables, add a bit of water. Place a plate that fits inside the pot on top to keep the vegetables submerged and leave over night to let the flavours develop.
5. The next day, spoon the vegetables into sterilised jars and pour the picking liquid over. This will keep for two weeks in the fridge.