Name a condiment that is both daring and harmonious; that can stand up to the mouthwatering richness of Italian beef gravy just as easily as it can tame the anarchy on a plate of nachos. If you’re having trouble coming up with the name, it’s probably because you don’t know how to say it or spell it—luckily, you don’t need to do either to enjoy it! We’re talking about Chicago-style giardiniera (jar-din-air-ah), a delicacy that has become synonymous with eating at Portillo’s.
This Portillo’s staple condiment didn’t start in our kitchens though—in fact, it had to cross an entire ocean before it would claim its rightful spot on top of our Italian beef sandwiches.
WHAT IS GIARDINIERA?
Giardiniera’s roots lie in the rolling hills of Italy. During the winter, people would pickle their fresh garden vegetables in vinegar as a means of preserving their food. The original Italian recipe for giardiniera includes many of the same vegetables used in the Marconi brand giardiniera specially crafted and bottled for Portillo’s—pickled peppers, cauliflower, carrots and celery—but with a few key tweaks to the original recipe.
Italians typically cut their veggies into larger pieces and pickle them in a vat of vinegar. The giardiniera found in Chicago is chopped into a much finer blend of vegetables and pickled in oil for two weeks, drained, tossed in more oil, and infused for an additional two weeks.
WHY IS IT SO POPULAR IN CHICAGO?
Giardiniera migrated to Chicago along with the Italian enclaves who invented it in the late 19th century. Italian migrants were drawn to the promise of steady work and the bustling spirit of metropolis that Chicago offered.
One of those migrants was Vincent Formusa, founder of the V. Formusa Co., the company that produces Marconi giardiniera. He came from a family of jewelers and watchmakers in Sicily and worked as a broker for many years before he began importing Italian food products. Formusa expanded his business into food manufacturing during World War I, producing commodities that were expensive at the time. As the company expanded in Chicago, so did the popularity of its Italian specialty foods, including giardiniera.
Now, giardiniera is an inextricable piece of Chicago’s culinary history, just as it is at Portillo’s. Marconi may not have invented giardiniera all by themselves, but they are credited with spreading the condiment’s popularity throughout the Chicagoland area.
At Portillo’s, we use a special bottle of giardiniera that Marconi produces specifically for us—and in addition to using this special variety of Marconi giardiniera for the food in our restaurants, we also sell it by the jar on our website!
HISTORY OF GIARDINIERA AT PORTILLO’S?
Portillo’s founder Dick Portillo added the famous Italian beef sandwich to the menu in 1971, the same year he began offering giardiniera as a topping. Fans couldn’t get enough of it—giardiniera had found its rightful throne on top of Portillo’s perfectly fluffed slices of Italian beef. Nearly half of all guests who order an Italian beef sandwich from Portillo’s know their sandwich isn’t complete without adding on a few scoops of giardiniera!
WHAT DO YOU PUT GIARDINIERA ON?
The world is really your oyster—or in this case, pickled pepper—in how you distribute giardiniera on your food. In Chicago, it is a common condiment offered for Italian beef sandwiches (another Chicagoland food staple courtesy of our robust Italian community) but is also a common feature on sausages, nachos and deep-dish pizza if you’re looking to add a satisfyingly acidic crunch to your bites.
At Portillo’s, the giardiniera possibilities are endless and can be paired with just about anything on our menu—however, we would recommend keeping it out of our cakes and shakes!
In addition to the classic Marconi giardiniera condiment that we put on our Italian beef sandwiches, we also use it to make our Hot Giardiniera Sauce by blending giardiniera relish into a creamy dipping sauce. You can get it on our Spicy Chicken Sandwich, or order as a side to dip your fries, chicken tenders and onion rings.
GIARDINIERA BEYOND CHICAGO
Giardiniera is going through its own national migration now. When longtime residents of Chicago move to other states, they bring their giardiniera love with them. Due to the condiment’s regionality, it’s difficult to find in grocery stores outside of Illinois; rather than go without, Chicagoans will order jars of their favorite Marconi giardiniera and share with their new communities.
And now that you have all this information, you can too! Who’s hungry?