April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.
There are many stories we could tell to explain why Bruce Kalman's giardiniere pickles (see the recipe) are so good.
We could tell you about how Kalman, the chef-owner of Cal-Italian restaurant Union in Pasadena, California, first caught the Italian bug at age 13, when he started working at Savino's pizzeria in his hometown of Paramus, New Jersey. And how his cooking career would take him to Chicago, where he further honed his skills in both restaurants and hotels.
Or how he became a pickling aficionado when he launched his company Bruce's Prime Pickle Co. in 2013.
Chef Bruce Kalman wraps the mixer in plastic wrap before making butter | Serrano chiles add heat to the giardiniere toasts | Kalman pours the brine over vegetables
But what we really want to tell you is this: Once you start eating his giardiniere—a punchy, crunchy mix of cauliflower, onion, carrots, celery and pickled chiles—you won't be able to stop.
"A chef friend of mine, Ted Cizma, is from Chicago and said that I had to make giardiniere. It was so popular with Bruce's Prime Pickle Co. that we used to make them in 1,000-pound batches," Kalman laughs.
The pickled serrano chiles give the giardiniere the signature heat that the Windy City accoutrement is known for, while dried oregano gives it a touch of I-talian flair. At Union, Kalman serves the pickles with thick slices of sourdough boule from Etxea Basque Bakery and a generous pat of tangy cultured butter, which he makes in-house using crème fraïche. The path to brine-splattered heaven is simple: Take bread. Schmear on butter. Pile on giardiniere. Eat, letting the olive oil and white vinegar dribble down your chin. Repeat.
Angelenos are lucky: Kalman's going to be jarring the bad boys again and selling them at his soon-to-open Pasta Bar in Downtown's bustling Grand Central Market, where he'll be making signature pastas like strozzapreti with rabbit on-site. But the rest of us will just have to make them ourselves.
"This particular recipe is spicy; it's sweet; it's a little salty; it's definitely tart—it hits every part of your palate," Kalman says. "The finish is the oil that has just enough chile to coat your palate. It sort of becomes buried in your subsconcious."
Sorry, Bruce, were you still talking? We're crunching it straight out of the jar.