Summer is here and its official arrival brings a symphony of colors and flavors to heighten our senses and satisfy our taste buds.
Seasonal summer produce offers the best opportunity to experience some of Italy’s most iconic dishes which are based on locally grown ingredients picked at the height of their flavor and simply prepared.
One of the best ways to eat like an Italian locavore is to make l’insalata caprese (the salad from Capri). The texture, flavor and vitality of this popular Italian dish is at its best this time of the year. Deceptively simple, it is made of three basic parts that tie together the ingredients in a forceful way reminiscent of a Vivaldian concerto. Made with firm vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (bufala or fior di latte – cow’s milk mozzarella) and garden grown Italian basil. The whole is made better by the quality of the individual ingredients. Top with a drizzle of an excellent Italian estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil for a light, delicious salad on a warm summer evening.
Most of us think that the foods of Italy are defined by red sauce, pasta and pizza but the cuisine of Italy is as gastronomically diverse as the 20 regions that make regional Italian cooking a culinary adventure. Here are a few lesser known favored Italian ingredients used to make 5 unexpected Italian dishes.
Liver. Fegato alla Veneziana, sauteed liver and finely sliced onions, seasoned with sage, parsley, a touch of red wine or vinegar in a combination of oil and butter. A classic Venetian dish.
Buckwheat. A beloved grain in Northern Italian often made into a flour to make pizzoccheri, a flat ribbon-like pasta served with cooked vegetables and cheese. Sometimes buckwheat is cooked with cornmeal and served with butter and cheese to make polenta taragna.
Tuna. Sardines and anchovies, clams and mussels rather than tuna are often thought of as the seafood of choice in Italy but tuna (tonno) is also popular served in a dish called Vitello Tonnato, or veal with tuna sauce.
Nepitella. Nepitella is a member of the mint family and a regional favorite in Tuscany where it is added to mushroom dishes and green vegetables for its distinctive flavor. Sautéed Mushrooms with Nepitella and garlic served on crostini or with roast or boiled meat dishes are delicious.
Alkermes. Alkermes is an 8th century Florentine liqueur and tonic of sorts used in various Italian pastries and confections most notably the familiar zuppa inglese. It is reputed to have been a favored elixir of the Medici. It’s complex and exotic formula (thought to include rose-water, cinnamon, sugar, honey, ground pearls, leaf gold, raw silk and kermes -a small parasitic insect found on the Mediterranean oak tree whose desiccated bodies yield a crimson dye – since replaced with artificial colorants) makes a beautiful dessert from Abruzzo known as Pesche Dolce, Italian Peach Cookies. The blushing color of the dessert is achieved by dipping the cookie in an Alkermes bagna per dolci, a bath for sweets.