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Nothing Says Love Quite Like Home-Canned Giardiniera

Giardiniera Jar

PJ and I enjoy nachos. We have our own versions, and one of them is to simply take corn chips and grated cheese, broil the cheese down onto the chips, then top with chopped giardiniera. (I often include some candied jalapeño slices, just for kicks.) Store-bought giardiniera is good, and we’ve found some varieties that are downright tasty. If it happens to have more carrots, so much the better (as far as we’re concerned).

Looking at the ingredients, though, I wondered if I could simply make my own. I’ve got plenty of pint jars and all the hardware, so it comes down to ingredients and procedure. After a bit of research (that is, a quick Google search, naturally) I decided I could make my own.

Here’s the ingredient list for what I call Zestiniera:

  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 red jalapeño chiles
  • 2 yellow banana peppers
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • water to cover veggies
  • 5 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup pickling salt (more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon each celery seed and mustard seed
  • 2 jars Mezzetta Cocktail Onions
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

I used baby-cut carrots (which aren’t baby carrots), and I took my trusty waffle-cutter to them lengthwise. The cauliflower I broke up by hand, though it would have been faster (and messier) to chop with a cleaver. I cut the pepper into strips; ditto the jalapeño chiles. The banana peppers were very long and skinny, so after taking out the seeds I chopped them more into oblongs that were almost squares. I think next time I’ll make rings, for visual interest. The celery I chopped into thumbnail-sized bits.

Garden Pickles

All the veggies went into a large, stainless-steel bowl. I dissolved the salt into water, then poured that over the vegetables. I topped off with enough water to cover, then put the top on the bowl and refrigerated overnight. The next day I set up for canning in pint jars, and got out my large soup pot. I drained and rinsed the veggies and set them aside. In the soup pot I put the vinegar, water, sugar and rest of the pickling salt. I added the seeds and brought the brine to a boil. The veggies went in next, and once they came to a boil over high heat I simmered them for just a few minutes, then I turned the heat off. I put in all of one jar of cocktail onions, and about half of the other. (I held back a few for martinis, of course.) I stirred in the olive oil to coat the veggies as the last step.

By this time the canner was burbling along on the back burner and the jars were hot and ready in the oven. I quickly filled seven pint jars with the steaming veggies, pressing them down with a heavy tablespoon to leave as little space as possible in the jars. I ladled in brine, leaving a half inch of headspace at the top. I carefully agitated each jar to be sure the air bubbles all came to the top, then added more brine as necessary. Canning flats (fished from hot water using my trusty magnetic wand) and rings were the next step, then into the waiting canner for ten minutes of processing.

A word about oil in pickles: It makes them less stable long-term on the shelf, so don’t let these babies sit around too long! I suspect all seven jars will be gone in 3-4 months; about right. If you want to store your Zestiniera longer, simply leave the olive oil out; it hurts nothing, and you can always drizzle olive oil on the pickles right before eating.

If you like your pickles zestier, add more fresh chiles. Or try a few dried chiles de arbol. Just don’t overdo the dried chiles! They can make things very spicy; as in set your hair (or other anatomical units) on fire hot. You can add pickled jalapeños as well, making the preserves into what’s known as California Hot Mix. That’s good stuff too!

One of the tricks is to use only a few minutes of heat before putting the vegetables into the jars. Remember that they’ll get a bit more cooking in the canner, which is running at boiling-water temperature. If you over-cook the veggies they’ll be too soft when you get some out for your nachos; and as Alton says, them ain’t good eats…

Enjoy the (Canned Summer Veggies) Heat!

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