Friday, May 21, 2010

Ricobene's: A Chicago Classic ... Just Add Giardiniera!

Just had to share our great experience at Ricobene's, a great Italian style sandwich/pizza/restaurant on Chicago's near south side.  It's located at 26th and Wells, nine blocks north of U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

Ricobene's has been around since 1946.  For years it was just a beef/hot dog/pizza stand where you ordered at the front window and took your food to go.

Over the years, it has expanded to be a neighborhood gathering place where you still order at the counter, but now sit down at one of the many tables and soak in the atmosphere.  Don't worry about your safety in here ... Ricobene's is a favorite of the Chicago police force!

They are best known for their breaded steak sandwiches, which is a piece of ribeye pounded flat, rolled in Italian seasonings and breadcrumbs, deep fried and dunked in a marinara sauce.  They're good, but we prefer the Italian beef sandwiches, pizza, and eggplant sandwiches.

They serve authentic Chicago style giardiniera and you absolutely have to try it on any of their great sandwiches!  You can get a beer on tap and the walls are loaded with pictures that'll make you feel like you're in Italy.

Ricobene's is a true Chicago gem.  Hey, Mr. Beef and Al's Beef are fine, but to be honest they're tourist traps.  Try a tried and true Chicago original ... Ricobene's.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Do You Pronounce "Giardiniera"?

We've heard the word giardiniera mangled often enough, so don't feel bad if you're not 100% sure how to pronounce it!

Actually, it's pretty simple ...

Here's how to pronounce giardiniera:

"Jar - Din - Air - Ah"

Now if you're from Chicago, you might hear it pronounced a little differently, especially if you happen to be eating at one of the city's world class Italian beef joints.

The truth is, we tend to abreviate all kinds of words and phrases in Chicagoland.  For example ...

"Highdoon" = "How are you doing?"

"Jeetyet" = "Did you eat yet?"

"Yooz" = "You people"

"Hahzyerbrudder" = "How is your brother?"

Similarly, "giardiniera" is often shortened to "Jar-Din-Air", essentially dropping off the last syllable.

But either way, it's the same great stuff!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Giardiniera: The Three Heat Levels

 In general terms, there are three heat levels of giardiniera ...

Mild, Hot, and Extra Hot  (how's that for simple terminology?)

With any kind of giardiniera, the heat comes from the peppers contained in the mix.  Some manufacturers use red pepper flakes to create what we like to call "artificial" heat.  That turns us off because giardiniera is a natural product and in our opinion, it should stay that way.

In any event, mild giardiniera is just that ... mild.  There's no heat from the peppers.

Hot giardiniera gives a slow, low burn kind of heat.  Not too much to make you call the fire department, but enough to jazz up your meals or add a kick to ho hum recipes.

Extra hot, on the other hand, is really hot.  Really hot.  Scotch bonnet peppers are used to make the Extra Hot variety, which as best we know is eaten by those who like stuff so hot they can't taste the food.  Well ... not really ... but Extra Hot ain't kids stuff, let's put it that way.

Our opinion?  Stick with the hot, and use the mild with breakfast dishes, in pasta salads, etc.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Giardiniera: Hot Or Mild?

Ahhh, the age old question ... hot or mild?

Maybe not as compelling as blond or brunette, but a quandry nonetheless ...

Giardiniera is available in two heat levels (generally).  Mild means just that ... no heat level whatsoever.

Hot, on the other hand, is made with hot peppers, which is where the heat comes from.  Some manufacturers use serranos, some use jalapenos.  Actually all sorts of hot peppers are used and experimentation is common place.

We have a soft spot for hot giardiniera because we like a little heat, but mild giardiniera is excellent as well.  And how "hot" is the giardiniera?  Well, that depends on your taste buds, but for the majority it's a slight smoldering heat that complements the food vs. overwhelming it.

On occasion you'll see Extra Hot, which is usually reserved for those with a death wish.  Not really, but yeah, it's really hot.  Scotch Bonnet peppers are used in the Extra Hot, and they're one of the hottest peppers on the planet.  

Types Of Giardiniera

Traditional giardiniera is the most common style available.  When we say "traditional", we mean a coarse cut style.  What that means is the vegetables are coarse chopped, which lets you see what each of the ingredients are when you look at a jar.

There is also giardiniera relish, which was introduced about fifteen years ago by E. Formella and Sons.  They've been making giardiniera and all kinds of other great Italian style specialty condiments since 1909.  The third generation owner, Randy Formella, thought it would be a good idea to offer a style that was "neater", meaning less messy to eat.

The relish style of giardiniera is quite comparable to pickle relish, the kind you put on hot dogs.  Basically it spreads pretty easily on a sandwich, pizza slice, etc.  Same great taste but less mess! Our personal favorite has always been the traditional style hot giardiniera. The giardiniera relish is great on sandwiches or for recipes, but for us, there's nothing quite like the "mouthfeel" of all the crunchy giardiniera ingredients. Try all the styles for yourself and then decide!

How Do I Use Giardiniera? The Top 10 List

Let me count the ways ...

Think of giardiniera like a condiment like ketchup or mustard.  Add it to whatever you're eating to make it taste better!  The only real limit is your imagination ...

To get you started, here are 10 Ways To Use Giardiniera:

  1. Pizza:  Add it atop a slice or better yet, add it to a frozen pizza and let it bake right in!
  2. Pasta:  A few fork fulls on a plate of spaghetti provides a whole new taste sensation.
  3. Baked Lasagna:  Throw the giardiniera in with the pasta, rocotto, etc. and bake it in.
  4. Italian Beef:  Go ahead, be a Chicagoan!  Spread it right across the top of the sandwich.
  5. Meatball Sandwiches:  See #4
  6. Scrambled Eggs:  The ultimate eye opener ... hot giardiniera mixed with scrambled eggs.
  7. Pasta Salads:   Have you ever thought pasta salads were a little dull?  Not any more!
  8. Omelets:  Wow, giardiniera is soooo good in an omelet.  Try it for yourself!
  9. Bloody Mary:  Since we're talking about eye openers ...
  10. Casseroles:  Giardiniera ... the perfect antidote for ho-hum tuna casseroles.
Ok, so there's ten uses for starters.  Tell us yours!

What Is Giardiniera?

If you're from Chicago, chances are great you know what giardiniera is ...

If you're not, don't worry, sooner or later good things will come your way!

Seriously though, giardiniera has been around for a long, long time.  It originated in Italy, and the word "giardiniera" loosely translates to "from the garden".  Which is appropriate, because everything you find in giardiniera you'll also find in a garden.

There are about as many recipes for giardiniera as there are for, say, pizza.  But much like pizza, there is a core list of ingredients.  For the most part, those are:

  • Hot or Mild Peppers
  • Celery
  • Green Olives
  • Carrots
  • Other Vegetables
  • Oil
Traditionally, giardiniera was packed in olive oil.  That's still the case, but it's less and less common.  Now, most giardiniera manufacturers use shelf stable oil, like vegetable oil, soybean oil, or a mixture.

The ingredients are mixed with Italian spices, packed into a jar or similar container, and oil is added.  You don't need to refrigerate giardiniera because the oil is shelf stable.  Actually, refrigerating giardiniera can change the complexity of the oil and therefore, the taste.  And we don't want to do that!  A jar of giardiniera will stay fresh for at least a year.  Just store it with your spices in a room temperature cabinet.

Click here to learn more about giardiniera ...