Few scents evoke an emotional response like that of bread as it rises to perfection in a hot oven. Taste buds awaken, eyes widen, stomachs rumble,...
As summer’s heat bears down on folks from Italy to America, time is best spent under a striped beach umbrella at la spiaggia or under a shaded pergola with a chilled, frosty spritz in hand. One needs some fresh, simple summer recipes with minimal stove time and maximum flavor, doesn’t one?
My summer recipes include a few that I learned on my visits to tiny Pantelleria, a wild, windswept island off the southern coast of Sicily, nicknamed ‘Daughter of the Wind’. I had traveled there in search of the famed caper berries and fresh ‘tumma’ (think indulgently creamy homemade ricotta). The tiny speck of an island lies in the straits between Sicily and Tunisia (actually closer to Tunisia). Stunning crystal blue water rings the island. Olive trees and grapevines grow behind walled gardens known as ‘giardini arabi’ that help protect them from the island winds. Caper berry plants spring from every nook and cranny amongst its lava strewn shores.
The laid back vibe from the summer heat lends itself to long lazy afternoons spent seaside or tucked away in a cool dome shaped home, known as dammusi. Lunches are lengthy affairs with the beautiful island breeze carrying scents of wild fennel. Local dishes are heavily influenced by its proximity to Africa. Mint mingles with the usual Italian herbs such as parsley and basil. Almonds replace pine nuts. The freshest of clams and fish are nestled in flavorful beds of couscous.
The two recipes below I make frequently during summer. Not only do they transport me back to this magical island but also these recipes require little stove time and make the perfect do-ahead dishes. Perfect for a summer’s picnic. However, only the freshest of ingredients will do for these. Use those lusciously ripe tomatoes. Experiment using a mix of different types. Throw in some heirloom or colorful varieties. Drizzle in your best very extra-virgin olive oil.
The pesto recipe below is incredibly forgiving. Taste as you go. Let your palate be your guide. Omit an herb if you so choose (although I highly recommend keeping the mint as it adds such a unique flavor.) Serve at room temperature. The salad is a delightful mix of potatoes, tomatoes, capers and onions. Make a few hours in advance to allow the wonderful juices to mingle. Minimal stove time required for either.
So as the summer heat continues on, enjoy that time in the shade while the recipes of this little island help keep you out of the kitchen.
Happy summer! Buon estate!
Pasta with Pesto Pantesco
• 1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 2 heaping tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
• 1 large handful blanched almonds, roughly chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• Handful fresh basil leaves
• Handful fresh parsley leaves
• Handful fresh mint leaves
• Sea salt
• Freshly ground pepper
• 1 pound pasta
Place the tomatoes, capers, almonds and garlic in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is still a bit chunky. Toss in the herbs and process for a few seconds. Slowly add in the olive oil with the machine running about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until just al dente. Drain.
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and toss with the pesto pantesco. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and serve!
• 1 pound red or fingerling potatoes
• 1 small red onion
• ½ cup red wine vinegar
• 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes
• 1/3 cup green or black olives
• 2 tablespoons capers, drained
• Dried oregano
• Sea salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Extra virgin olive oil
Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and allow to cool. Peel, halve and halve again. Transfer the potatoes to a medium bowl.
Peel the onion, cut into thin rings and place in a bowl with the vinegar for about half an hour. Drain, reserving the vinegar. Add the onions to the bowl.
Wash the tomatoes and cut into quarters or cubes. Pit the olives and cut into halves. Place in the bowl along with the potatoes and onion. Toss in the capers. Stir gently.
Season with a sprinkle of oregano, salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with good quality olive oil. Gently stir to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding some of the reserved vinegar if needed. Transfer to serving dish. Top with a few additional capers and drizzle with a bit of extra olive oil. Serve!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.