The FIAT 500 Giardiniera, a station wagon—maybe to transport large amounts of pickled vegetables.
Recipe below: La Giardiniera with Saffron and Sweet Wine
All the men in my family had a high tolerance for vinegar. It was astonishing to watch my grandfather eat an entire jar of pickled peppers for lunch, and with a pot of black coffee, no less. Acid upon acid, down it all went, with never a wince. According to Pop, any vegetable was at its most natural sottaceto (under vinegar). I think his love of vinegar contributed to his stern if not ornery disposition, but it’s hard to say if he was born that way or the vinegar eased him into it. In any case, that peculiar lunch would have me running for Prilosec in no time.
Giardiniera, which means garden-style, is the name of a chunky, Neapolitan pickled vegetable assortment that usually includes cauliflower, carrot, sometimes celery or fennel, and hot or sweet peppers. Olives or gherkins can be thrown in as well. As a kid I was never crazy about it. As far as I can remember, nobody in my family made the stuff. It was bought at the Italian market, its power trapped in jars until let loose into little bowls, causing pungent Italian-American tears to run down my cheeks. It’s a classic accompaniment to capocolla and soppressata and to strong cheeses such as provolone and pecorino. My mother set a version of this antipasto plate out on Christmas day. The aroma from the meats and cheeses, together with the vibrant colors of the giardiniera, made a tribal symbol of Christmas. I tended to eat around the giardiniera. I get why the combination should have been lovely, but, as it turned out, I had to start making giardiniera myself before I really appreciated it.
Once I set up my own Italian kitchen, I worked out ways to soften the thing. I cut back on the vinegar and added more wine. I took out the gherkins. I played with the spices. The recipe here is scented with saffron. That’s not traditional, but saffron’s floral and gently bitter notes blend well with the agrodolce base, so it works for me. I’ve also added fennel and coriander seeds and sweet wine, giving my version more of a Sicilian than Neapolitan flavor. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise was my wine of choice here. It’s not as syrupy sweet as some moscatos, so the result is more complex—a little sweet, a little minerally. It’s also less expensive than most dessert wines, so I felt okay pouring almost half a bottle into this brew. The remaining wine is of course wonderful served alongside Christmas biscotti.
(Makes about 3 cups cups of giardiniera)
About half a medium cauliflower, cut into small flowerets
2 peeled carrots, 2 celery stalks, a large fennel bulb, and a large red bell pepper, all cut into chunks about the same size as the cauliflower ones
2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
2 cups Muscat de Beaumes de Venise wine
1 cup high quality white wine vinegar (I like to use champagne vinegar, with its delicate flavor)
A large pinch of saffron threads, ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle (about ¼ teaspoon ground)
1 fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
I teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette
½ teaspoon salt
Put up a large pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in all the vegetables, including the garlic, and boil for about 3 minutes. Drain them into a colander, and run cold water over them to stop the cooking and bring up their colors. After they’ve drained well, place them in a large bowl.
Pour the muscat and the vinegar into a medium saucepan. Add the saffron, bay leaf, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, piment d’Espelette, and salt. Bring it all to a boil over high heat, lower the heat to medium, and let the mixture bubble, uncovered, for about 4 minutes.
Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables, and toss everything well. Let it cool, stirring everything a few times. Now cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it overnight, or transfer to a jar with a lid. The overnight rest will allow the vinegar mix to penetrate all the vegetables, deepening their flavor. Then the giardiniera will be ready to serve, and it’ll keep refrigerated for about a week or so.