Warm … no, HOT … a summer marked by extreme heat (again!), fires, thunderstorms, troubling climatic events, sometimes of a record-breaking nature. But, there are plants that manage to thrive and sometimes particularly flourish in these conditions. We have a table-top replete with items that reflect the garden’s proudest produce in these dog-days of summer. Below you will find descriptions of a quartet of items from our cupboard that should find a place in yours. Each carries the color red as its marker … different shades and hues but a classic indicator of fire and heat and, sometimes, sweetness … a statement about this season’s fiery character.
MOSTARDA DI CIPOLLE ROSSE
Let’s start with a quite singular product that will quickly win your favor. This scintillating “mostarda” is produced by the Armato family in Liguria from red onions that are cooked down and lightly caramelized with a bit of sugar, salt, a mix of spices (family recipe) and vinegar. Its sweet and sour savory quality tempts one to eat it right out of the jar by the spoonful but, should one have the discipline, this Italian version of chutney marries beautifully to butterflied and grilled leg of lamb, a hearty pork chop and equally admirably as a complement to a hearty chunk of parmesan.
POMODORI CILIEGINO IN OLIO DI OLIVA
These small, bite-size cherry tomatoes, lightly sun-dried to bring out their natural sweetness, then bottled in the finest Armato olive oil along with basil, oregano, garlic and salt, have gained an instant following since we introduced them three years ago. Delicious to a fault (meaning the contents of the jar can disappear in a single seating!), we use these to enhance the flavors of tomato-based sauces, as a topping on our home-made pizza, as an ingredient in salads when the tomato season is over and as a partner to sandwiches of all sorts or appetizers like slices of grilled or toasted bread drizzled with olive oil, a few grains of sea salt, all topped off with a few of these delicious, brilliantly red enticements.
The sun-dried tomatoes prepared by the Armato family are exemplary in this category. Tomatoes farmed by local growers, prepared individually with a tender touch, flavors pure and intensely concentrated and augmented by contact with the Armato olive oil, a touch of salt and some aromatic herbs. Placed on toast, these tomatoes are a perfect mid-day snack; we use them even during tomato season as a pizza-topping since the sweet flavors and slightly chewy texture adds complexity to even the most flavorful fresh tomatoes; thrown into salads, these deeply red tomato slices add delight to any combination of greens; of course, they are ideal as an ingredient in focaccia, in a frittata … and the list goes on and on. What better way to celebrate the summer than to indulge in this rich specialty of the season.
One of the favorite items produced by Alessandra Armato and her husband, Giordano Mazzariol, in their laboratory-cum-kitchen in Alassio on the Ligurian coast, is the dried HOT red pepper flakes that are bottled in 50 gram jars. To lift the flavors of almost any dish, to add a piquant note to sauces, to light your fire at any time, this is a not-to-be-missed kitchen staple. Used with the proper touch (as the label notes “basta un pizzico” … “just a little is enough!”), you will be delighted with the results. Again, peppers are farmed by the Armato neighbors, no industrial product is this, and then each is gently processed to arrive at this artisanal miracle. A bit of heat which actually will stimulate the natural corporeal cooling response. VAI!