5 Ingredients that Capture a Mediterranean Summer
May, 2014 · By Coryanne Ettiene
There is something about summer cooking that reminds me of those fabulous summer holidays spent in Italy. It may be the dry breeze rolling across the backyard, or even the brazen clarity that the last thing I want to do is leave my shaded spot outdoors and hurry into the kitchen to prepare a heavy meal. My summer kitchen might as well be transplanted into a Tuscan villa, complete with pasta salads, olive bowls and sweet juicy grilled vegetables. It is impossible to place why I greet every meal with memories flowing around those Italian summers…perhaps it is the mischievous delight of nibbling snacks with your fingers, the rounded shoulders that arrive when family and friends gather around a relaxed table or simply the bounty of salty sweet tastes that surround our plates. I have yet to meet a person who does not swoon at the thought of a Mediterranean meal, so if you can’t move your kitchen to Italy, you can bring Italy to your kitchen with these easy summer ingredients that capture a Mediterranean summer.
Sun dried tomatoes. Each and every variety has something different to offer. From the sweet tang of a dried cherry tomato, to the unmistakable flavor burst of an heirloom tomato, drying these gems will add intensity to your dish that captures the heart of a Mediterranean diet. Add them to salads, blitz them into a paste to turn your toast into a crowd pleasing party snack, or dice them up before adding them to a hot bowl of pasta served with olive oil, grated Romano and fresh basil leaves. When drying tomatoes of any variety, the basic rule of thumb is to thinly slice them, toss them on to a sheet of parchment paper lining a flat baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and then cook them slowly on low heat until they are dry.
Basil Simple Syrup. If ever there was one ingredient vital to a mediterranean inspired summer, this would be it. Fragrant, delicate, sweet and distinctive, this fabulous leaf will give your summer soups a fresh burst of flavor, turn a simple green salad into a culinary delight and give something as simple as a lemonade a complex finish that everyone will love. We rarely go a week in the summer without a fresh pesto pasta dish, leaving us with a generous portion of basil stalks; Instead of tossing them into the compost heap, I make an infused simple syrup that I add to lemonade or summer cocktails for an unexpected twist. Add 3 cups of water and 2 cups of white granulated sugar to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, then toss in the basil stalks and cook on a high simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the stalks from the pot, allow it to steep until it reaches room temperature and then store it in the fridge for up to a week.
Tepenade. Irresistibly salty, this blend of black and green olives can change something as universal as chicken into a stand alone dish. Serve it as a dip, turn it into a marinade or add it to a martini for an extra dirty Mediterranean delight. Tepenade will stay fresh in your fridge for up to a week, so make it frequently, as it won’t last long. Simply add an equal measure of black and green pitted olives to a food processor, a dash of olive oil, a splash of fresh lemon juice, a smidgen of garlic paste, and blitz until smooth. You can also make it using only green or black olives, but I like the flavor of mixing the two offers.
Preserved Lemon. Nothing compares to a zip of citrus in the summer, and adding a few preserved lemons to a summer roast or using the juices to compliment a salad dressing oil base is a way to give your everyday meals that a Mediterranean make over. The beauty with preserved lemons is that they stay preserved in your fridge for up to year so make plenty and have them on hand for last minute hostess gifts. To make them, add either sliced or quarter lemons to a jar, add a generous helping of Sea Salt and cover with water, then shake until the lemons are nice and salty, seal and store in the fridge. You can even get creative by adding peppercorns, herbs or seasoned salt.
Marinated Sweet Peppers. My guilty pleasure, I cannot resist these sweet gems, and never have enough to satisfy my craving. Add them to your pizza for a vibrant burst of flavor and color, toss them in to a salad for sweetness, or top a simple slice of toast with them….. or do as I do and eat them right from the jar. The possibilities are endless when it comes to marinaded peppers when you stick to a traditional recipe of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic and roasted sweet peppers.