Info

"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it." – Julia Child

Posts tagged summer

The end-of-day drink is a fairly common affair, whether it’s a swig from the small bottle hiding in an office desk drawer or a few beers with colleagues on the way home. There’s a perfunctory air to some of these evening proceedings, and sometimes, as in the case of happy hours run amok, a debauched one. But in Italy, the pre-dinner cocktail is a much more refined and stylish event. It’s not that the settings are snobbish or expensive, it’s more a matter of the activity being a respected ritual.

An aperitivo is an Italian cocktail designed to tease the appetite in preparation for supper. The alcohol content of the ingredients used to mix the drinks is fairly low, as the point is not to send anyone home completely sauced. You’re probably familiar with vermouth, Campari, and Aperol, so you’re already off to a good start in the art of aperitivo. Following are a few simple drinks and recipes — because aside from sophisticated sipping, small bites are an indispensable part of the custom.

And, if you’re feeling inspired be sure to pick up our friend Marisa Huff’s beautiful book Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy for more recipes and tips on how to eat and drink like an Italian. Cin cin!

 

CAMPARI SPRITZ

The lush tomato-red color of Campari makes is enough to imagine Sophia Loren speeding in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Campari is a bitter liqueur made from an infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic herbs, alcohol, and water—the exact recipe is of course, a secret.

To make a spritz, combine in a wine glass:

3 parts dry white wine, still or sparkling
2 parts Campari
1 part club soda

– Add ice and garnish with an orange wedge and/or a green olive.

– If you prefer a sweeter and less dry spritz, substitute the Campari with Aperol.

MASCARPONE AND HAZELNUT TRAMEZZINI
From Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy by Marisa Huff

Tea sandwiches are not just the thing of picnics and proper tea tables. In Italy, the crust-less white bread sandwiches (tramezzini) are the ideal sidekick to a cocktail.

*If you can’t find truffle paste, Marisa recommends replacing half the mascarpone with gorgonzola dolce or gorgonzola piccante.

Makes 6 half sandwiches

2 cups mascarpone (from an 8-ounce/250-gram container)
1 teaspoon white truffle paste*
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

– In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix together the mascarpone and white truffle paste until smooth. Arrange three slices of bread on a cutting board or other flat surface. Spread the cheese mixture across each slices, dividing it evenly. Close with the remaining bread slices and press down gently so that the cheese reaches the edges of the bread. Cut in half to make six sandwiches. (We spread a bit of cheese on the edges of the sandwiches, too).

– To finish, dip all four sides of each sandwich in the chopped hazelnuts, which will stick to the cheese.

THE EASIEST SNACKS

We are frequently asked for easy entertaining ideas, and in general, our approach is to either prep in advance or go to the no-fail crudités-and-dip or cheese and charcuterie boards. You can simplify even further and serve olives, nuts, and Italian meats and cheeses if you decide to try an aperitivo gathering at home. Of course, shop for good ingredients or risk having your cocktail hour spread resemble an airplane snack box.

PERFECT EGG SALAD

Please forget the crusty egg salad you see piled up in the deli case before you continue reading! This version has absolutely nothing to do with that. It is a velvety luxury that goes well on toast, on a bagel under layers of smoked salmon, and in this case, on crusty Italian bread alongside a crisp aperitivo. Oh. And you can use it as a dip for potato chips, too.

4 large eggs
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Mayonnaise
4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, minced
1 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
½ cup watercress, chopped, plus additional for sprinkling
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Extra-virgin olive oil

– The richness of this egg salad comes not only from mayonnaise, but from the natural goo of a runny egg yolk. Usually, when we hard-boil our eggs, we start them in cold water. However, since what we want is a firm white and a fluid yolk, we’ll start with boiling water. So:

– Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Gently lower the eggs into the water and boil them for 6 minutes exactly. Drain the eggs, run them under cold water for a minute or two, and return them to the saucepan. Shake the eggs until the shells are cracked all over, then peel them under gently running water. You’ll see how easy it is.

– Smash the eggs in a medium bowl with a fork and season them with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and the remaining ingredients. Stir everything together and adjust the salad with more anchovy, capers, mayo, etc. to taste.

– Spoon the egg salad on bread, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped watercress.

Have you ever been to the supermarket and not found a tomato? Probably not. We live in a seasonless era where produce exists year-round. You can buy peaches in the dead of winter and strawberries in the fall, but they never taste good. The same goes for tomatoes. These sci-fi versions with their lipstick red hue and taut skins are more decor than food.

I’ve become used to perennial produce, just like many, and I buy those out of season fruits (mostly tomatoes, because, I just really, really want one in my sandwich) only to eat them and feel deep disappointment.

It’s now late summer and the proper time to eat tomatoes, finally. There are so many beautiful, sun-ripened, juicy ones available you might have a hard time selecting among them, but they’re only around for a short while so eat as many as you can and store the memory of their proper flavor in your mind and belly until next season.

A favorite way we have of eating them is the most simple: salt and pepper, maybe some olive oil, good bread, and whatever cheese you may have, like mozzarella or goat cheese or sharp cheddar (try a cheddar, tomato, and mayonnaise sandiwich!).

We also love this take on a BLT with pork belly and herbs, and a vegetarian ensemble with green and yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, cucumbers, and basil.

PORK BELLY B.L.T.

1 1/4 pounds pork belly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons malt vinegar
1 tablespoon sharp mustard
1 cup water

– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

– With a sharp knife, score (gently cut) the top of the pork belly in a cross-hatch pattern. Season with salt, pepper, and the dry mustard.

– Whisk the remaining ingredients together in small saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the pork belly in a small baking dish and pour the sauce over it (it should come up at least halfway up the sides of the belly, otherwise, transfer to a smaller container). Cover with foil and transfer to the oven. Bake 1 hour until tender.

– Cool the belly completely (preferably refrigerated overnight) and slice into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cook the slices in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. If you like, you can simmer the cooking sauce and use it to glaze the pork.

– For the sandwich, spread toast with mayonnaise or mustard, then top with the pork belly and ripe, salted tomatoes. Add herbs like lemon thyme and basil and serve.

Finally, eggplant and tomatoes in a version of caponata. Caponata is a Sicilian classic, with myriad interpretations, but mostly it starts with eggplant cooked until tender. Other ingredients include the aforementioned tomatoes, onions, and celery, plus carrots, capers, olives, pine nuts, and herbs. The flavor is agrodolce (sweet-sour) and all of these ingredients combine to hit your palate in multiple locations at once.

This edition is a bit loose, having been made quickly from what was on hand. The dish, as you can see in the photo, is meant to look like a thick, fruit-heavy compote. Our caponata starts with eggplant and includes bits and pieces of fresh tomatoes. It’s actually a great way to rescue leftover bits of tomatoes you might have from having made a sandwich or a salad. You can use anchovies, or sardines as this recipe does—don’t worry, they won’t be “fishy” but will impart a heady dose of umami.

CAPONATA

Olive oil
2 black-skinned eggplant (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
6 ripe tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives (chopping optional)
1/3 cup capers, rinsed and drained
2 sardines packed in oil
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
2 rosemary sprigs
Lemon juice
Red wine vinegar
– Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the eggplant and onion and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant begins to soften and the onion is translucent, about 20 minutes. It’s ok if the eggplant turns a bit brown, but do lower the heat if any excess charring begins to happen.

– Add the garlic and a pinch of Aleppo pepper and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and any juices and continue cooking, stirring, until the mixture is becoming homogenous and thick. Stir in the olives, capers, sardines, raisins, and rosemary and cook for 10 minutes longer.

– Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

– Cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer with garlic toast or alongside grilled fish or chicken.

Get ready for fireworks! This 4th of July we’ll be making hot dogs with a little more than just ketchup and mustard. We can’t decide which is our favorite. Tell us what you settle on!

 

POTATO SALAD WITH HOMEMADE RANCH DRESSING
Serves 10

Fresh, fresh, fresh! We’re getting ready to perk up basic potato salad with a series of recipes, but we couldn’t wait and broke this one out for the weekend festivities. No more powdered spice mixes or bottled dressings! This dressing is all fragrant herbs. Take note of the 2-step dressing process: your potato salad will have more flavor than ever.

4 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 bunch dill, chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
½ cup parsley leaves, chopped
Worcestershire sauce
Fresh lemon juice

– Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the head to medium and simmer the potatoes until fork-tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them with the vinegar and oil and gently stir them with a rubber spatula.

– While the potatoes are cooling, whisk the buttermilk and mayonnaise together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the garlic, dill, cilantro, and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Add Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice to taste.

– Pour about half of the dressing over the potatoes and stir gently to combine — while warm, the potatoes will absorb the dressing.  Reserve the rest. When the potatoes come to room temperature, transfer them to a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled. When ready to serve, add the reserved dressing to the potatoes and adjust seasoning, as food tends to lose flavor when cold.

 

GRILLED FRANKS’N’BEANS
Makes about 6 cups beans

Sure, you can buy canned baked beans, but these are sparkler-dazzling. Also, you probably have most of the condiments in the recipe lurking in your pantry already. Make them a couple of days in advance and reheat them in a cast iron skillet or a disposable foil pan right on your grill when you’re ready to serve. Add a little water to the beans if you need to loosen the sauce up a bit.
For the Beans
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
2 slices smoked ham, cut into cubes
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons molasses
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons brown mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup water
4 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
– Heat the lard over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or other large pot until shimmering. Add the ham and bacon and cook, stirring, until crisp and brown. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and brown sugar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in the molasses, then the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and water.

– Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and stir in the beans. Cook until the sauce is thickened and the beans are warmed through, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust with vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, if desired.

For the Franks
Franks, of your choice
Hot dog buns
Brown mustard

– Grill the franks outdoors or cook them on a grill pan, or even a standard skillet with a pat of butter, until they’re nicely browned.  Place them in the buns and top them with baked beans and mustard.

L.A.-STYLE BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOGS
Serves 6

I can’t get enough of this recipe. My soon-to-be sister Whitney took me to downtown L.A. years ago and introduced me to these hot dogs. They were cooked on a bunsen burner on a sheet tray, right there in the middle of a busy street. There was a huge bowl of fresh guacamole on a cooler in the front, surrounded by bottled Jarritos sodas. Bacon-wrapped, grilled, topped with charred onions and jalapeños, and topped with creamy guacamole, you’ll have a line of customers at your own grill. Oh, and, yeah, there are chicharrones in the guacamole.

For the Hot Dogs and Jalapeño-Onion Topping
6 jalapeño peppers
Vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 hot dog sausages
¼ cup cornstarch
6 slices bacon
6 hot dog buns
Mayonnaise, for serving

– Set a grill or grill pan to high. If using a grill, set a large cast iron skillet on the grill to preheat. You can also use a grilling basket. Drizzle the jalapeños with oil and set them directly on the grill, if using. Season the onions with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook them in the preheated cast iron or on the grill pan, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Transfer to a serving platter.

– Roll the sausages in cornstarch. Wrap 1 bacon slice around each sausage: the cornstarch will glue them together. Cook the hot dogs in the skillet until the bacon is crisped and browned.  Tuck the sausages into buns spread with mayo, and top with the onions and jalapeños. Serve with guacamole.

For the Guacamole
Makes about 3 cups

4 ripe avocados, pitted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 to 3 limes
Worcestershire sauce
Pork cracklings, crushed

– Scoop the avocado flesh into a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher or a large fork to desired consistency. With a rubber spatula, fold in the onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro. Stir in the lime juice and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Adjust seasonings, top with the cracklings, and serve.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS
Serves 4

4 bell peppers in assorted colors, seeded and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
4 fresh Italian sausages
4 sturdy rolls, split in half

– Set a grill or grill pan to high. If using a grill, set a large cast iron skillet on the grill to preheat. You can also use a grilling basket. Toss the peppers and onions together in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook them in the preheated cast iron or on the grill pan, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Transfer to a serving platter.

– Poke the sausages a few times with a fork and lightly coat with oil. Grill until lightly charred and cooked through. Transfer them to a cutting board and cut the sausages into thick slices.

– Brush the insides of the rolls with oil and grill them just long enough to toast.  Stuff the rolls with the peppers and onions and sausage. Serve with banana peppers and pickled vegetables if desired.

This was our tiny guest at the shoot: Paloma. Little but with a dinosaur appetite! Yes, this is a very kid-friendly post.