Giardiniera – A Lacto Fermented Feast!
I can hardly spell it, let alone pronounce it! Giardiniera is my husband’s new “go to”.
Last summer, in the height of the harvest, we decided to experiment with a “new to us” preservation technique called lacto fermentation. It was a hit! I was enjoying homemade sauerkraut, gingered carrots and fermented garlic and my husband was having a ball with cucumber pickles, jalapenos and cherry bombs. He likes it hot!
Lacto fermentation is the method of preserving vegetables in jars using salt-water brine. In super basic terms we are “pickling” without using vinegar. The salt prevents harmful bacteria from growing and allows beneficial bacteria to preserve the vegetables. This is a very similar process to making yogurt. The beneficial bacteria could also be termed a “probiotic”. They are essential for gut health and function and making them at home is a blast! Add a spoonful of fermented food to each meal and your gut microbiome with thank you! You will experience better digestion, less bloating, less cramping, and more regular bowel movements. Some cultures around the world use ferments as a staple in their diet.
You have probably seen giardiniera and not known it. It is often used with an anti-pasto dish or as a side relish or chopped and put on a hoagie sandwich.
It can be made of a variety of vegetables but the more popular ones are cauliflower, carrots, celery, bell peppers, onions and garlic. Spicy versions may include jalapenos, red pepper flakes or Serrano peppers. Italian versions can include oregano, basil, bay leaf, peppercorns, cayenne, mustard seed, coriander seed and fennel seed.
We were introduced to giardiniera through a YouTube video and decided to go for it. The recipe used a gallon jar but I only had half-gallon jars so we divided and conquered. He made a hot version in his jar and I made a mild version in mine. We used fresh cauliflower, green beans, onion, garlic, bell peppers, leeks, jalapenos, carrots and several of the spices listed above. If you want your veggies to stay on the crunchy side, you MUST add a couple fresh bay leaves. Without the bay leaves your veggies may get soft and mushy.
Once all the chopping was done we used a tamper to press down the veggies to pack in as much as possible. We made the brine (6 cups non-chlorinated water + 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt) and slowly poured it into the jars letting all the bubbles escape to the surface. After the bubbles stopped we topped off the brine to keep all the veggies submerged. Leaving 1-inch head space we screwed on a canning lid, labeled each jar with the date and our names and put them in a warm dark place to start fermenting.
Each day we would have to unscrew the caps to release any trapped gasses. We could see more and more bubbles forming and releasing as the healthy lacto bacteria were doing their work preserving the veggies.
My husband tested his giardiniera after about 5 days of fermenting and thought it needed another couple days. By day 7 it was just to his liking. The veggies had settled a little and the flavors had mixed through the brine. The spices were distinguishable and there was still good crunch to the relish with a little fermented tingle on the tongue. We decided it best to divide each half-gallon jar into smaller manageable jars for fridge space. Refrigeration drastically slows down the fermentation process and keeps the giardiniera in great shape for several months.
So far we have used the giardiniera in egg scrambles, sautés, relishes, salads, on pizzas and used the juice in marinades or drank it straight up. We eat some form of it daily!
No matter the season, delicately bubbling jars in dark warm corners have become permanent fixtures at our house. We have fallen in love with fermentation and we hope you do too!