Rule #1 of being a foodie: Never turn down an invitation to a pig roast.
Rule #2 of being a foodie: When invited to said pig roast, bring foods that will complement and heighten the piggy experience.
There are very few foods that can't be made better with a little bit of spicy goodness. And I take great pride in figuring out exactly what spice will work well on each food. Red pepper flakes are great for pasta and soups, but not tacos. I love Patak's chile relish on roast beef, and The Pepper Plant's hot pepper sauce on chicken tacos. Harissa has been playing a large part in my kitchen ever since a good friend made some, and I have found it to be the perfect complement to a bowl of rice with tofu and vegetables.
When I was invited to a pig roast by some good friends this weekend, I tried to figure out the perfect spicy condiment that was going to enhance the pig without overpowering the delicious flavor. I settled on giardiniera, which is a concoction of pickled vegetables marinated with spicy peppers. It is known as sotto aceti in Italian, and features a salad-like mixture of lots of different vegetables: bell pepper, olives, celery, carrots, cauliflower and small onions to name a few. In Italy, it's common to see jars of beautifully arranged pickled vegetables available for purchase in stores. In the U.S., giardiniera is prominently featured as a condiment for Italian beef sandwiches as made in Chicago. I thought the acidity of the giardiniera would go well with the roasted pig, and I was right. Though most of our pork eating involved standing around the pig eating it with our hands, once I got to the buffet and ate the pork with the giardiniera, I thought they went together very well as did many of the guests.
I opted for a simple giardiniera with only cauliflower, carrots and peppers. The recipe can be adjusted to add in any of the aforementioned vegetables, or anything that would do well pickled in a spicy manner. You could let this marinate for as little as a couple of hours, but I think that it tastes best after being pickled for a day or two. I used small peppers that I had pickled over the summer, but you can choose any type of pickled pepper. Many recipes call for heating the vinegar along with the water, sugar and salt. But, as Deb at Smitten Kitchen says, "steamy vinegar is no friend to lungs." To avoid this, I just skipped heating the vinegar altogether and didn't notice any difference in flavor.
Makes approximately 6 cups
Active preparation time: About 1 hour. Make approximately 2 days before eating.
1 large head cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 bunch carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 cup pickled peppers, rinsed
1.25 cups white vinegar
.25 cups sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
.5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Bring 1.5 cups water to a low boil and add sugar and salt. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved (about a minute or two). Remove from heat and add in vinegar, mustard seeds and red pepper flakes. Set aside and allow the pickling liquid to cool.
Blanch cauliflower by bringing a large pot of water to a boil, adding the cauliflower and cooking for approximately 3-4 minutes, then removing from boiling water into an ice-water bath. Repeat for the carrots, cooking for approximately 2-3 minutes. After cauliflower and carrots have cooled completely, remove from ice water to a 2-quart container. Add pickled peppers and mix.
Pour pickling liquid over vegetables. Use an inverted plate to weight vegetables so they are submersed in liquid. Cover and refrigerate. After a day, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary (at this point, I originally added more pepper flakes). Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.