On this week’s podcast, Curious City answers a question from St. Louis native Clare Fauke. She came to Chicago 20 years ago and fell in love with her now-husband, Scott, and a condiment found all over Chicago: giardiniera. She even turned her mom onto the spicy, salty, oily concoction. But when her mom returned to St. Louis and tried to buy some more, nobody knew what she was talking about.
So Clare wanted to know if giardiniera was just a Chicago thing, how it got to be so big here and how to pronounce it. You will find answers to all those questions in this week’s episode.
But Clare was also fascinated by the many ways Chicagoans eat giardiniera. According to industry estimates, we eat about 15 million pounds of it in the Midwest each year. So we put the question out on social media, asking our Curious City readers for their best giardiniera tips and uses. Lots of you said pizza and Italian beef (both delicious) but we also got a bunch of surprising ideas for how to eat it that we included here. Enjoy!
Responses have been edited for clarity.
“That spicy pickled stuff…” I mix it into tuna fish salad and need to have it on my Italian beef sandwiches.
Perfect for muffaletta.
I love it on cold turkey sandwiches. My favorite Chicago street food sandwich is Italian sausage double-dipped with hot giardiniera on the sandwich and sweet peppers on the side.
I use it to flavor garbanzo salad, along with olive oil and lime juice.
I use the extra oil for salad dressing.
I use the oil to make spicy popcorn once the veg is gone.
I use the “juice” in homemade barbecue sauce.
I usually empty a new jar into a bowl and blend it with my wand mixer, then put it back into the jar it came in. Better for spreading on pizza and tuna sandwiches!
We make tacos or fajitas with skirt steak or chicken and put the giardiniera on there with avocado and sour cream.
I eat it on pizza and even on my chicken salad sandwiches from Potbelly. But the game changed when I roasted potatoes for breakfast in giardiniera oil. Amazing, subtle spicy flavor that my 4-year-old could handle. Next is roasted aloo gobi in giardiniera oil. 🤩
With slow-cooked pulled pork.
—Heather Parker Valdez
I put a full jar of Giardiniera in the crock pot with a beef roast on low for eight hours. I add 12 oz of beer or broth. It makes great Italian beef!! It is super easy.
[I put it on] cheese pizza, grilled cheese, cottage cheese … cheesy things.
I make an omelette with giardiniera and American cheese inside. Delicious!
I sauté kale in it before adding scrambled eggs and cheese.
I mix giardiniera with fusilli pasta, crushed tomatoes and goat cheese! It’s my go-to easy dinner recipe.
More about our questioner
Clare Fauke is a communications specialist and St. Louis native who lives in Logan Square with her kids and husband, Scott.
Within a few years of arriving in Chicago, Clare discovered the pleasures of giardiniera on pizza. But when she met her South Side in-laws, she discovered a whole new world of giardiniera use.
“It was like half of their recipes involved giardiniera in some way,” she recalled, “like in pork chops and pot roast, all kinds of things.”As mentioned above, Clare even turned her mom on to the spicy condiment, so her mom was disappointed to find that she couldn’t get it back home in St. Louis.
So Clare was thrilled but surprised to learn that the expansion of Chicago chains—especially Potbelly, which calls its giardiniera “hot peppers” outside Chicago—might help turn this Chicago-style condiment into a national thing.
“I always thought of [giardiniera] as more of a pizza topping, but it sounds like sandwiches are sort of the vector for which it’s going to be taken out into the rest of the world,” she said. “I wonder if, at some point, it’s going to be sold in every supermarket in America in the jar form that we know and love here in Chicago. Hopefully at least in St. Louis, so my mom can get her fix.”
Monica Eng is Curious City’s reporter. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org