The summer has been scorching already, and forecasters predict more of the same for weeks. When it’s this hot, let someone else do the cooking and keep your kitchen cool. Italian food is a natural choice for keeping cool on the sultriest of summer days because the cuisine evolved under the powerful Mediterranean sun. Italian cooks didn’t want to heat their kitchens either, so they devised plenty of light recipes that taste as refreshing as that first crisp day of fall.
The quintessential light summer dish is the antipasto course. The term literally means “before the meal,” but this selection of cured meats, cheeses, relishes and pickled delicacies easily fills in as a light, refreshing lunch by itself. Served hot or cold, antipasto plates satisfy you without leaving you feeling stuffed. Briny olives, cured salami and marinated artichoke hearts pack plenty of flavor into small packages. Antipasti are also a good choice if you’re not quite sure what you want; with so much variety on the plate, you’ll always find something to love.
Steamy weather can leave you feeling a little wilted, but eating a salad with crisp, cool leaves and chilled dressing is a good way to beat back summer’s heat. Salads can take center stage rather than playing a supporting role to your entree, especially when they’re big and loaded with toppings. If you love the classics, go for iceberg lettuce and slices of fresh tomato in a light Italian dressing. For a more adventurous plate, mix sweet and savory flavors by topping your salad with diced apples and orange sections, then tossing it with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Carlino’s house special fruit salad also includes slivered pears and curls of Romano cheese to add piquancy to the dish.
You may not think of a slice of pizza as summer fare, but it’s commonly served for easy summer dinners in Italy. Because its thin crust cooks so quickly, pizza doesn’t heat a home the way a slow-cooking dish like lasagna or a slow-simmered Bolognese sauce might. Italian cooks also love to take advantage of what’s fresh in the market, and the tomatoes that go into freshly made sauce are at their best in the summer. Another trick to beat the heat: Sprinkle a few red pepper flakes on your pizza. The spiciness of the pepper actually helps you cool off, which is one reason that spicy foods are so popular in hot climates.
Anything you eat instantly becomes more refreshing with the right drink beside it. Italian white wines are typically more bracing and crisp than their French counterparts, so they’re an excellent choice to pair with a slice of cheese pizza or a salad. Lemonade’s blend of tartness and sweetness makes it especially good on a hot summer day. Get the same lip-puckering effect with a little bit of a kick from a lemon drop cocktail made with the Italian liqueur limoncello.
Don’t let summer win; keep your cool with dishes and drinks that grew up under hot Mediterranean skies. Enjoy the lighter side of Italian cooking and beat the heat.
Sincerely, Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’sTweet read more
With tasting notes of raisin, caramel, and oak; a smooth, enduring taste; and a bouquet of fine port, balsamic vinegar can be as enjoyable as a fine liqueur. Its complex taste – sweet, tart, slightly smoky and rich with as many subtle overtones as a great wine – takes years to develop. Considered an elixir to cure any ill by the monks who made it 700 years ago, balsamic vinegar has now become a staple in Italian kitchens.
Unlike its common cousins, balsamic vinegar comes not from wine but from the grapes themselves. Instead of fermenting the grapes, vinegar makers press them and boil down the fresh juice until it becomes as thick as syrup. This concentrated syrup goes into an oak cask just like a fine wine. As the vinegar slowly evaporates, it goes into smaller and smaller casks. Vinegar makers call the portion that’s lost to evaporation “the angel’s share.” After years of maturation, the vinegar is ready to grace anything from a dish of fresh strawberries to slivers of Parmesan cheese.
Three Categories of Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar falls into one of three categories: traditional, condiment-grade and commercial balsamic vinegar.
The original balsamic vinegar ages for years or even decades before it’s enjoyed; a few brands even reach the century mark. Some families pass containers of the vinegar down through generations, and the casks are only breached for a momentous occasion like a large family wedding. Balsamic vinegar must age for at least twelve years to get certified as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale by the consortium that regulates this rare elixir. Only Modena and Reggio Emilia produce certified traditional balsamic vinegar.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is used exclusively as a finishing touch and is never cooked; cooking would destroy its complex taste. As thick as syrup and as dark as espresso, this vinegar can be as costly as a well-aged wine and fetch triple-digit sums.
Most of the balsamic vinegar you’ll encounter in fine restaurants is condimento vinegar. It undergoes the same process as its costlier counterpart, but it ages for less than a dozen years or comes from a region outside of the vinegar-producing regions of Italy. It’s typically more liquid and less syrup-like than traditional balsamic vinegar; it also has a milder flavor that lends it to a broader range of uses in the kitchen. Think of condimento balsamic vinegar as you would a good table wine – perfect to enjoy regularly and not just for special occasions. Add it to mixed fruits or to salad dressings to enhance their flavor without overwhelming them the way a concentrated traditional vinegar might.
Commercial balsamic vinegar undergoes very different processing from its more traditional cousins. It starts with red wine vinegar to which reduced grape juice and flavorings are added. These vinegars mimic the sweetness and tartness of balsamic vinegar, but lack its complexity. They also lack its price, so they’re a good choice for glazes that undergo cooking.
Sample a quality balsamic vinegar on Carlino’s house specialty fruit salad with mesclun greens, fresh fruits and Italian cheeses. While it may not be the panacea that medieval monks meant it to be, balsamic vinegar is an excellent cure for the garden-variety salad.
Sincerely, Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s RestaurantTweet read more
Spring means gloriously long afternoons and the kind of weather that inspires you to spend every moment outside. New York and Naples share a line of latitude, so the same lengthening days that entice you outside are also luring Neapolitans outdoors. A balmy Mediterranean spring means more than just gorgeous weather and more sunshine, though; it also means a bounty of exquisitely fresh fruits and vegetables. You’ll find some of spring’s freshest flavors on Carlino’s menu, too.
The Italian word for spring is primavera, and you can enjoy its fullest flavor in pasta primavera. As its name implies, the dish is a celebration of spring; vegetables are the star here, and pasta plays a delicious supporting role. This culinary creation of pasta, grated Parmesan cheese and a bouquet of colorful fresh vegetables has roots both in Italy and in America. Italians contributed the fresh, bright spring flavors of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and vegetables to the dish; when it came to America, it acquired its silky, creamy sauce. Enjoy a plate of pasta primavera with a slice of crusty Italian bread or tangy bruschetta.
Another favorite that appears on Italian tables in the spring is tricolore salad. This refreshing dish pays homage to the red, white and green of the Italian flag in the most delicious way. Every household has its own version; around the Bay of Naples, insalata Caprese, or Capri-style salad, is the most popular. A simple preparation of fresh mozzarella cheese, snipped sweet basil leaves and ripe red tomatoes with just enough sea salt and black pepper to bring out its flavor, this take on tricolore salad unites three classic Italian flavors in one flawless dish. Other versions switch tomatoes for sweet red peppers or rest on a bed of green lettuce, but every recipe is a springtime delight.
When spring turns especially warm, nothing tastes more refreshing than a salad that perfectly blends sweet and savory flavors in a profusion of spring color. Carlino’s fruit salad echoes the magnificent salads that grace Italian tables. Fresh greens, fruits, cheeses and balsamic vinegar come together in a salad that’s bursting with lively flavor. The mixture of fruit, cheese and balsamic vinegar’s sweet tanginess comes from Renaissance dishes that regularly mixed sweet and savory tastes in surprising harmony.
You might not consider pizza a spring treat, but even this classic gets a lift when the weather turns warmer. The artichokes, peppers and tomatoes that top a pizza taste a little brighter when they’re in season. Cows that eat tender spring grass give sweeter milk for mozzarella cheese, so many Italians reserve the traditional pizza margarita for spring. The next time you sit down to a slice, savor it and see if you can taste that little extra “Wow!” that comes with the season.
Celebrate primavera with a meal that makes the most of it at Carlino’s.
Sincerely, Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’sTweet read more