Garden in a jar. A light and delicious appetizer salad is as picturesque as it is piquant.
For a cocktail party fundraiser in New York last weekend, I was planning to take a large antipasto platter centered on ravioletti (mini raviolis) with sundried tomatoes, tiny balls of mozzarella, and salami, and needed a vegetable counterpoint. While I was fishing the ravioletti from the bottom of the freezer at our posh local Italian deli, I spied giant jars of giardiniera, pickled peppers and mushrooms on top of the freezer cases. Aha. That would be it.
Giardiniera is a combination of lightly pickled vegetables, usually containing cauliflower, peppers, celery and carrots, and spiked with mustard seeds and hot pepper. It goes together in a snap, cures within a day and keeps for weeks in the fridge. I couldn’t find my notes from the last time I made it but I recalled that the recipe came from Gourmet magazine, and luckily Deb at the Smitten Kitchen blog reproduced a similar recipe, which I used as my guide. Like Deb, I omitted the olives. I was considering omitting the jarred pepperoncini, but added them at the end since their hotness re-balanced the sweetness of the pickling liquid. My organic veggies were from our CSA and very fresh, so my cooking time was considerably less than the original recipe. Pay attention at the stove!
Giardiniera adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet
Pickling liquid (see below)
1 large head cauliflower (at least 2 lbs before trimming, about 2 after)
4 medium carrots
4 stalks celery
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
About 8 oz jarred pepperoncini (3/4 of a 12 oz jar, selecting the smallest ones)
2½ c white vinegar
3 c water
¾ c white sugar
5 tbsp Kosher or other coarse salt
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp red pepper flakes (or crushed whole red peppers)
Clean a large (2 quart) jar.
Make and cool the pickling liquid. Bring the ingredients to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.
Prepare the fresh vegetables. Cut the cauliflower into florets of about ¾-1 inch, saving the large stems and core for another use. Peel the carrots and slice on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces. Trim the celery, pulling off any long strings and slice it on the diagonal to a similar size as the carrots. Remove the stems, seeds and ribs and cut the peppers into 1-inch squares.
Cook the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water (not salted) to a boil. Place a bowl of ice water in the sink. Cook each vegetable separately until it is crisp tender (err on the side of crisp). Cauliflower and carrots take 3-4 minutes, celery and peppers about 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables quickly to a colander and dunk it in ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Drain well and spread the vegetables on towels to remove as much water as possible.
Assemble the giardiniera. When the vegetables are dry and thoroughly cool, place them in layers in a large (2 quart) jar, adding in the pepperoncini as you go. Pour the cooled pickling liquid over the vegetables to cover. Cap the jar and refrigerate. The pickled vegetables will be ready in 24 hours and will keep for a week or two in the refrigerator.