Friends, we extend our greasy hand in welcome for our summer series Deep Frydays, where we take some of Chicago’s favorite foods and, like the name says, we deep-fry them and deal with the big questions: How do you deep-fry deep-dish? Will it collapse in the heat like a poorly filled pothole? Can you deep-fry a feeling? Will we keep our jobs? Where’s the defibrillator in this building? Let’s find out together!
Today’s sacrifice to the gods of hot oil: giardiniera mix.
The crunchy, spicy, salty mix of pickled vegetables Chicagoans love didn’t originate in Chicago, but like the people who brought giardiniera here might say, it got here as fast as it could. The 19th century wave of Italian immigrants that filled factories and staffed stockyards in young Chicago brought along their food traditions and adapted them to suit their new environs – the same story that lets us give the “Chicago-style” stamp to so many of our favorite foods.
On the shores of the Mediterranean, giardiniera is usually preserved in vinegar, and it’s used as a component of a meal, like an antipasto. But here on the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s packed in oil and more often used as a condiment. It’s perhaps best known as a loyal companion to another Chicago classic with immigrant origins: the Italian beef. Every beef place worth its (considerable) salt has its own secret giardiniera recipe, and beef fans will happily argue about where they rank, and dream about the possibilities. (A Johnnie’s beef with Freddy’s giardiniera? Think about it.)
The mix can vary in both vegetable components and spice level, but at its most basic, giardiniera is made from pickled bell peppers, carrots and celery, packed in oil. From there, giardiniera aficionados put their own twist on the blend with hot peppers, spices and other vegetables before packing it all into jars and piling it atop everything from beefs to subs to pizza. But it’s important to remember that the true glory of giardiniera is that it’s more than the sum of its parts – it brings wildly different components together for a common purpose, but each piece still maintains its unique character. If that doesn’t sound like Chicago to you, take a look at the neighborhood map.
Since giardiniera isn’t about the individual, but the collective, instead of trying to coat individual pieces (why waste time getting this into your mouth?) we stirred it into a simple beer batter and fried it fritter-style.
• 1 ½ cup giardiniera mix, drained
• 1 cup flour
• 1 egg
• 1 can of lager beer
First: now is as good a time as any to tell you that all recipes in this series will start with “heat up some oil.”
And we’re not gonna lie, we kinda winged it here. Whisk the egg into the flour, then whisk in about half the can of beer until the batter is stirrable, but on the thicker side. Stir in drained giardiniera and drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. Drain on paper towels, then pile them up on a platter and devour along with the rest of the beer.
For those of you like Nick, who can’t eat gluten but still eats like a champion, a straight substitution of gluten-free flour (we used Bob’s Red Mill) works just fine in this recipe, and you can swap out the beer for soda water.