Food & Drink

Grilled Fresh Tomato Slices

By Barbara Beltrami

So you stopped at that cute little farm stand and couldn’t resist those beautiful (ugly and misshapen) heirloom tomatoes. Those peppers were just too perfect to pass up, and there it was, the first local cauliflower of the season. Or maybe you’re lucky and this year your vegetable garden actually yielded some tomatoes before the critters got to them, you had a bumper crop of peppers and eked out one perfect cauliflower. So now what? Roll up your sleeves, wash those veggies, and fire up the grill because that’s where they and you are going.

Grilled Fresh Tomato Slices 

Grilled Fresh Tomato Slices

 

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

4 large fresh tomatoes, washed and sliced 1-inch thick

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup fresh, chopped basil

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare a hot fire on your grill. Oil a perforated grill rack with a little of the olive oil. Brush the tomato slices on both sides with the remaining oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill the tomatoes on the perforated grill rack 3 to 4 minutes, gently turn and grill on the other side until they begin to sizzle and have grill marks. Remove to a platter. Garnish with basil. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature with toasted garlic bread.

Grilled Stuffed Peppers

Grilled Stuffed Peppers

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 medium bell peppers (any color), inner membrane and small area around stem removed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch scallions, cleaned and sliced

2 cups cubed coarse white bread such as, but not limited to, ciabatta or sourdough

2 cups chopped tomatoes with their juice

1 cup grated cheddar or manchego cheese

1 cup fresh corn kernels

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare a hot fire on your grill. Oil a disposable foil baking pan with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Trim a small slice off the bottom of each pepper so it will stand up straight in the baking pan. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon oil and saute the scallions 3 to 4 minutes until softened. Add the bread, tomatoes, cheese, corn, parsley and salt and pepper and stir until well blended and bread is moist. Spoon mixture into peppers and place them in foil pan. Place pan on indirect heat side of grill, close lid and cook until tops of peppers are bubbling and slightly charred, about 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm with a green salad, corn on the cob, and meat, poultry or beans.

Grilled Herbed Cauliflower Steaks

Grilled Herbed Cauliflower Steaks

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large head cauliflower, washed and drained

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves

½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Holding the cauliflower upright and starting at the center, slice it into one-inch slabs. Save any detached florets for another use. Oil grill rack; preheat grill to medium-low. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs. Place steaks on a large platter and brush them liberally on both sides with two-thirds of the mixture and season with salt and pepper. Grill them 5 to 10 minutes until brown on bottom; turn them, brush with remaining mixture, season again with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese Cook another 5 to 10 minutes, until tender and brown on other side. Serve hot or warm with poultry or meat, potatoes and a salad.

Chicken Tarragon

By Barbara Beltrami

If there is one herb that is closely associated with the delicacy and sophistication of French cuisine, it is tarragon. Despite its exquisite flavor and haunting aromatic essence, it is a hardy little plant that once introduced into your garden will return year after year to give you myriad pleasures in a countless variety of uses. As the growing season wanes, now is a good time to harvest the last of it and freeze it for later use. Or it is usually available in the produce section of the supermarket. 

Tarragon is certainly essential to a bearnaise sauce, which beautifully enhances not only beef but also chicken and fish. It gives a tangy kick to salad dressings and light creamy soups and is one of the essential ingredients in a bouquet of fine herbs. Try making your own tarragon vinegar by sticking a couple of sprigs into a bottle of cider vinegar or white wine vinegar and just leave it there until the vinegar is finished. Blend it with mayonnaise for chicken, shrimp, lobster or crabmeat salads or tartar sauce for fish.

There are various kinds of tarragon; the ones usually available around here are French, Russian and Texan. Go for the French as it has the truest, most pure flavor. And use the herb sparingly as a little goes a long way.

Chicken Tarragon

Chicken Tarragon

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 small roasting chicken (about 2½ to 3 pounds)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Leaves from 1 or 2 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 small garlic clove, minced

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup brandy

DIRECTIONS:

Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels inside and outside. In a small bowl mash together the butter, tarragon leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Rub inside of bird with mixture, then brush olive oil on outside. Place chicken, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow baking pan and roast one hour at 375 F or until done.  

Remove from oven, pour brandy evenly over chicken; then return to oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, place on a platter and stir and scrape drippings in pan. Spoon drippings over carved chicken and serve immediately with choice of potato and vegetable.

Bearnaise Sauce

Bearnaise Sauce

 

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

1½ tablespoons minced shallots

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, minced

Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup melted unsalted butter

Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In the top of a double boiler combine wine, vinegar, shallots, pepper, tarragon and parsley and cook until mixture is reduced by half. Allow to cool, then, keeping the pot over very hot water, add the egg yolks and butter alternately and gradually while continuously whisking so that they are thoroughly combined. Add salt. 

Serve immediately with beef tenderloin, shell or porterhouse steak and French fries

A view of the Barone Cornacchia winery with sunflowers in the foreground.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

The Barone Cornacchia winery is situated in the region of Abruzzo (known as Abruzzi in Italy) located in a mountainous area east of Latium in the south-central part of Italy off the Adriatic Sea. In this region the two most prolific and popular grape varieties are trebbiano (a white grape) and Montepulciano (a red grape).

The winery, which dates to 1577, is run by Barone Cornacchia’s son Filippo and daughter Caterina. It specializes in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a single vineyard Le Coste wine in addition to the everyday Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a reserve from the prestigious Colline Teramane DOCG.

I tasted some of the wines with Caterina Cornacchia on several occasions and here are my notes:

2016 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (100 percent trebbiano grapes): If you don’t like trebbiano because it’s thin and neutral tasting, well you’ve been drinking mass-produced examples. What a wine! Medium bodied with citrus notes of orange along with almonds, apple, cantaloupe, hazelnuts, melon, pears and wild flowers.

2015 Pecorino “Colli Aprutini” (100 percent pecorino grapes). No, not the cheese! Pecorino is a white grape that deserves considerably more attention. Straw colored with flavors of apples, citrus, figs, peaches, pears and tropical fruit. Quite dry, with a bitter almond aftertaste.

2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). Dark almost purple color with plenty of dark fruit, blackberries, black cherries, jam, anise, chestnuts and a spicy warming aftertaste. Not a mass-produced wine! Forget a bottle, buy a case!

2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Vigna Le Coste” (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). This elegant “single-vineyard” wine was aged for 14 months in Slavonian oak barrels. Deep ruby color with flavors of plum, spices, black currants, cherries, and earthy overtones of mushrooms and chestnuts.

2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Colline Teramane” DOCG “Vizzarro” (100 percent Montepulciano grapes). The wine was aged for more than 2 years in oak barrels. Rich, dry, full bodied and powerful with concentrated fruit; flavors of jam, blackberries and black licorice; with dried leaves, vanilla and plenty of tannin to ensure longevity.

Two cheeses from Abruzzo worth searching out are scamorza and Scanno:

Scamorza, a cow’s milk cheese, similar to mozzarella is light yellow, with a rindless pear-shaped exterior and soft to semisoft texture. It is mild and slightly salty tasting and often smoked (affumicato). In southern Italian dialect, the name scamorza means “dunce.”

Scanno, a sheep’s milk cheese from the mountain village of Scanno is traditionally eaten with fresh fruit. The exterior is black with a buttery pale-yellow interior. The flavor has a mild burnt tinge to it.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

Apple-Honey Loaf Cake

By Barbara Beltrami

Like so many holidays, Rosh Hashana, which begins the Jewish New Year on the evening of Sept. 9, features an assortment of traditional foods. Among them are carrots, pomegranates, fish and, last but not least, bread, apples and honey. Each of these has a symbolic association with the idea of plenty, prosperity, newness, beauty and sweetness — all very happy and positive bodings for the new year. I would love to go into what each means, but my editor would have a conniption if I wrote all that. Anyway, below are recipes that feature three of those very important elements of the Rosh Hashana table … apples and honey for a sweet and happy new year and challah for a prosperous one.

Apple-Honey Loaf Cake

Apple-Honey Loaf Cake

 

YIELD: Makes two 9×5×3-inch loaves.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 apples peeled, cored and shredded 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour loaf pans. In a large bowl combine sugar and oil; add eggs and beat until mixture is pale yellow. Stir in ¾ cup of the honey and vanilla. In another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir into egg mixture just until moistened. Fold in apples. Pour batter into loaf pans; bake 45 minutes or until cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean. Heat remaining quarter cup of honey until warm. Let cake cool 15 minutes, then invert onto plate, prick with a fork and drizzle warm honey over top. Serve with dessert wine, coffee or tea.

Holiday Challah

Holiday Challah

YIELD: Makes 2 large loaves.

INGREDIENTS:

Four ¼-ounce packages quick-rise yeast

4 cups warm (105–115 F) water

2 tablespoons salt

¾ cup sugar

1 cup vegetable shortening, melted

4 eggs

10 to 12 cups bread flour (approximate)

1 egg

¼ cup poppy seeds

DIRECTIONS:

In large bowl, sprinkle yeast over water; stir to moisten. Stir in salt, sugar, shortening and the 4 eggs. Gradually mix in flour, one cupful at a time until dough becomes slightly sticky but not wet. (You may not need all the flour.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Grease two baking sheets and set aside. Cut dough into two equal pieces, then divide each of those pieces into 3 equal pieces. On a floured surface, roll each of the smaller pieces into a 12-inch rope about the thickness of a thumb, but thicker in the middle and thinner toward each end. For each loaf, braid the 3 ropes, pinch together and tuck under at ends. Gently pat each loaf into a circular shape and lift onto baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel let rise in a warm place until double in size, 60 to 90 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat remaining egg with ½ teaspoon water and brush top of each loaf with mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake until tops are shiny and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool before slicing.

Flatbread with Ricotta, Swiss Chard and Scallion Topping

By Barbara Beltrami

One of the nice things about the influx of immigrants in recent years is that they’ve brought with them cultures that we were formerly unfamiliar with and have added a whole new dimension to our own culture and cuisine. 

For years, we’ve accepted and taken for granted the cuisines that western European and British immigrants brought with them and actually integrated them into what we now think of as basic American cuisine. But now dishes from regions in the Far and Near East as well as the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America have also assumed dynamic roles in our basic American cuisine. 

A good example is flatbread. Acting as the base for a limitless number of toppings, it makes a great light meal, tasty appetizer and healthful snack.

Basic Flatbread

YIELD: Makes approximately 20 pieces

INGREDIENTS:

2¼ ounces active dry yeast

1¾ cup flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

¾ cup warm (100 F) water

2 teaspoons olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, flour and salt. Slowly add water and mix until dough starts to form a ball. Coat hands and a flat surface with flour and knead dough until it feels smooth and elastic. Place dough in oil-coated large bowl; cover with a clean damp linen or cotton towel; and let sit in a warm place about one hour or until doubled in size. Remove from bowl to floured surface and punch and knead gently. Separate dough into golf ball size pieces. With a rolling pin flatten each piece into a ⅛-inch-thick disk. Heat an ungreased skillet over medium setting and cook disk until dough begins to bubble, about one minute, flip it and cook other side. Serve warm with olives, olive oil, hummus, tzatziki or baba ghanoush or top with other ingredients in this column and broil.

Tomato, Feta, Chickpea and Kalamata Olive Topping

YIELD: Makes approximately 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

One 15½-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and lightly mashed

2 large garden tomatoes, sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup pitted chopped Kalamata olives

¹/₃ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat broiler. Arrange first five ingredients on flatbread; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; sprinkle with black pepper; and place on a broiler pan rack and broil until topping starts to bubble, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm with hard or soft cold drinks and spinach salad.

Ricotta, Swiss Chard and Scallion Topping

Flatbread with Ricotta, Swiss Chard and Scallion Topping

YIELD: Makes approximately 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 bunch Swiss chard, cleaned, washed and chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch scallions, cleaned, washed and sliced thin

1 cup fresh ricotta

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil 

Grated zest of half a lemon

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

In a large covered skillet over medium heat, cook Swiss chard with salt, pepper and one cup water until limp and tender. When cool enough to handle, squeeze or press out all liquid and divide and spread evenly on flatbreads. Top with scallions and ricotta. Broil until bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes, remove, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with lemon zest and salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm with tomato and onion salad and cold drinks.

Potato Salad with Bacon and Egg

By Barbara Beltrami

“Please pass the potato salad.” Famous last or more likely first words at many a party, picnic or barbecue. Who among us does not adore the tangy taste of that ubiquitous combination of potatoes and dressing? And while that dressing may range from vinegar and oil to mayonnaise to whipped or sour cream, there is one constant to all good potato salad recipes: The potatoes are freshly cooked, not left over. 

Additions such as herbs, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, capers, mustard or pickles can always dress up the salad, but for me, the more basic the recipe, the less interference with that wonderful marriage of potatoes and dressing. 

Potato Salad with Bacon and Egg

Potato Salad with Bacon and Egg

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

1½ cups mayonnaise or to taste

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

¼ pound crisp fried bacon, crumbled

5 hard boiled eggs quartered

1 medium red onion, minced

2 celery ribs, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

DIRECTIONS:

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender; rinse under cold water, drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Mix mayonnaise with vinegar; add bacon, eggs, onion, celery and tomato. While they are still warm, slice or coarsely chop but do not peel potatoes.In a large bowl, toss with mayonnaise mixture, salt and pepper; sprinkle parsley on top.  Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled with sandwiches, grilled meat or poultry or cold cuts.

Potato Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds tiny new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 ounces white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons dry white wine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves

½ cup fresh chopped chives

¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 scallions, very thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender; rinse under cold water, drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. In a medium bowl whisk together the oil, vinegar, wine, herbs, scallions, salt and pepper; toss with potatoes and serve warm or at room temperature with cold cuts, poultry, or beef or other salads.

Old-Fashioned Basic Potato Salad

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

2 cups good mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 celery ribs finely chopped

1 medium red onion, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Drain, rinse in cold water and set aside till cool enough to handle. In a medium bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, celery, onion, salt and pepper. In large bowl, toss with potatoes. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled with barbecued chicken, burgers, hot dogs or steaks.

The festival will have lots of carnival rides and games for families to enjoy. File photo by Bob Savage

By Sabrina Petroski

Souvlaki, gyros, baklava, oh my! Is your mouth watering yet? Try all of these dishes and more as the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson celebrates its 57th annual Port Jefferson Greek Festival from Aug 23 through 26. This year’s event will feature carnival rides, traditional dance performances, live music, games and culinary delights. 

Come for the delicious food and stay for the dancing!

Authentic Greek dishes such as gyros, moussaka, tiropita, souvlaki and spanakopita will be served up, along with sweet desserts such as melomakarona, galaktoboureko, kourabiedes, koulourakia, baklava and loukoumades, a fried dough pastry favorite.

According to Marisa Raptis, the president of the Parish Council, members of the church will be making the food on sight and fresh to order. Popcorn, cotton candy and pretzels will also be available. 

Guided tours of the church will be available throughout the day, and over 30 vendors will be scattered around the church grounds selling jewelry, home                                                                                           goods, clothes, beauty products, candles and other handmade items. 

One of the main attractions at the festival is the over-the-top sweepstakes that the church holds. This year 315 prizes will be awarded including cars — a 2018 Mercedes Benz GLC 300 4Matic is first prize — an Alexa Smart Device, a Bose Home Theater, an iPod Touch, a Nespresso Mini, cash prizes and much more. Tickets for the sweepstakes are $100 each, limited to 4,999 tickets — meaning that one out of 16 will win a prize. The drawing will be held on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.

The festival will have lots of carnival rides and games for families to enjoy. File photo by Giselle Barkley

In addition, there will also be live performances throughout the weekend for guests to enjoy. The Hellenic Dance Troupe will be performing on Saturday as well as the church’s Youth Dance Troupe, showing off the traditional Greek style of dance. A five-piece band will take the stage Friday through Sunday with tunes that will make you want to get up out of your seat, and a DJed fireworks show will turn heads on Friday and Saturday night, weather permitting. 

“People should come because we are one of the largest Greek festivals on Long Island,” said Raptis in a recent email. “Where else can you go on a Friday night and eat dinner under the stars while listening to live music and watching fireworks?,” adding, “I am most excited about being with my Greek community for four days as we show our love for our culture to everyone with music, food and dancing!”

The festival will take place, rain or shine, from 5 to 10 p.m. on Aug. 23, 5 to 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 1 to 11 p.m. on Aug. 25 and 1 to 10 p.m. on Aug. 26. Tickets are $2 per person, and children under 12 can attend for free. A shuttle service will be available from Ward Melville High School to the church. Raffle tickets may be purchased online at www.portjeffgreekfest.com. 

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption is located at 430 Sheep Pasture Road, Port Jefferson. For more information, call the church office at 631-473-0894.

Summer Garden Pasta

By Barbara Beltrami

As much as a hearty ragu with rigatoni is welcome in the winter, so is a light sauce with capellini, spaghetti or farfalle in the summer. Summer pastas call for delicate shapes, light ingredients and minimal saucing. They also require taking advantage of summer veggies, using fresh tomatoes rather than canned ones, and seasoning with lots of fresh herbs. This is the time to let your imagination take you on a cook’s tour, to invent as you go along and to use unlikely fresh ingredients like arugula, melon (that’s right!), citrus and fish.

Summer Garden Pasta

Summer Garden Pasta

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound pasta

1 pound very small zucchini, washed, trimmed and cut into small dice

½ medium red onion, peeled and cut into small dice

½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice

2 celery ribs, cut into small dice

2 large tomatoes, cut into small dice

2 carrots, peeled and minced or shredded

½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

½ cup or more extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile combine the veggies, basil and parsley in a large bowl. When pasta is al dente, drain well and add, along with the olive oil, to the veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to mix. Serve immediately with a crisp dry white or rose wine.

Pasta with Baby Shrimp, Cherry Tomatoes and Chives

Pasta with Baby Shrimp, Cherry Tomatoes and Chives

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound pasta

1pound baby shrimp

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup chopped fresh chives

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Saute shrimp and garlic in two tablespoons of the olive oil until shrimp are pink and garlic releases its aroma, one to two minutes. Set shrimp aside; discard garlic. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, puree tomatoes in a food processor. In a medium skillet, heat the remaining oil and add tomatoes with their juice. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add shrimp, chives and salt and pepper; continue cooking another 5 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Toss with pasta in a large bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature with a spinach salad.

Spaghetti with Cantaloupe and Prosciutto

Spaghetti with Cantaloupe and Prosciutto

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound spaghettini

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cups cantaloupe, rind and seeds removed, cut into small dice

1cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon tomato paste

2 ounces prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch strips

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over high heat, combine butter and oil. When very hot, but not smoking, add melon and cook, stirring frequently, for two minutes, until soft but not mushy. Add cream, lemon juice and tomato paste and cook over high  heat until reduced to one-quarter its original volume. As soon as pasta is al dente, drain and transfer to large serving bowl. Toss with sauce, prosciutto, salt and pepper. Serve with a salad of baby greens and sliced grape tomatoes.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

Amari (plural of amaro), the Italian term for “bitters,” refers to distilled spirits containing an infusion of bittering “botanicals” such as herbs, roots or barks. Some of the many botanicals used include gentian, rhubarb, quinine, aniseed, saffron, peppermint, cloves, bitter orange and cinnamon. Bitters were originally produced to soothe and relax the stomach after meals and therefore are often referred to as “digestives.” They are also used as ingredients in some cocktails.

Aperire, a Latin word, that means to open, is the origin of the word apéritif — a beverage that usually “opens” lunch or dinner as a stimulant to the appetite. Most apéritifs have an initial sweet taste with a somewhat bitter aftertaste because of the use of quinine, a bitter compound that comes from the bark of the Cinchona tree. This slight bitterness whets the appetite and cleanses the palate.

Unfortunately, many consumers cringe at the bitter flavor of some amari, preferring sweeter beverages to run across their palates, while others look upon bitters as a “cult” or “rite of passage” beverage. There appears to be growing interest in this category, which can easily be shown by the vast number of articles and cocktails about bitters in the news.

Although Italy has the lion’s share of amari, we also find delectable offerings from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, the United States and many other countries. 

Here are some of my favorites from Italy:

Aperol (22 proof, Veneto): Luminous orange color. Made from an infusion of aromatic herbs, spices and roots, including bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb.

Averna (68 proof, Sicily): Dark brown with colalike aroma and bittersweet taste; hints of black pepper, cloves, licorice and vanilla.

Branca Menta (60 proof, Lombardy): Dark, red-brown color; bouquet and flavor of spearmint, chocolate, citrus, menthol and herbs.

Campari (48 proof, Lombardy): Ruby-red, bitter beverage; bouquet and taste of bitter orange, cherry and strawberry, with a bittersweet aftertaste.

Cynar (34 proof, Veneto): Brown color; bouquet and taste of almonds, herbs, honey and walnuts.

Fernet-Branca (80 proof, Lombardy): Dark brown, extremely bitter; contains more than 40 herbs and spices.

Ramazzotti (60 proof, Lombardy): Dark brown, bittersweet; made from 33 different herbs, roots and spices.

There is no one correct way to serve amari; they are great served “neat” (room temperature), refrigerator chilled or on the rocks. Each can be served as a tall drink, filled with sparkling mineral water (or sparkling wine) and garnished with a wedge of lemon, lime or even orange. A maraschino cherry on top may provide a finishing touch.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Butter Frosting and Sprinkles

By Barbara Beltrami

When the kids get tired of their tablets and cellphones (lol), when it’s so hot that everybody is fighting to get in front of the AC vents, or when summer vacation is past the halfway mark and boredom sets in, it’s cupcakes to the rescue. Easy and user friendly, the following basic recipes for cupcakes and their frostings leave lots of room for creativity.

Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Butter Frosting topped with Chocolate Sprinkles

YIELD: Makes 12 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS:

One stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1¾ cups sifted cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Fill 12 muffin cups with paper liners. With electric mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs and mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add alternately with the milk to the butter mixture; do not overbeat. Stir in vanilla. Fill muffin cups ⅔ full and bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden and pulling away slightly from sides of pan. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. When cool, top with frosting of choice. Serve with chocolate milk or lemonade.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Butter Frosting topped with Pink Sprinkles

YIELD: Makes 24 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup cocoa

1 cup hot water

1⅔ cups flour

1½ cups sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup soft unsalted butter

2 eggs

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Mix cocoa and water until smooth; let cool. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add butter and cocoa mixture; scraping sides of bowl frequently, beat two minutes on medium speed of mixer. Add eggs and beat two more minutes. Fill muffin cups half full. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from muffin tin and cool on wire rack. Frost as desired. Serve with milk or orangeade.

Vanilla Butter Frosting

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Butter Frosting topped with Confetti Sprinkles

YIELD: Makes enough for 12 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup soft unsalted butter

3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

3 tablespoons cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Blend butter and sugar together; stir in cream and vanilla till smooth.

Chocolate Butter Frosting

Make vanilla frosting but stir in three squares unsweetened chocolate, melted, into blended mixture.

Orange or Lemon Frosting

Make vanilla butter frosting but omit vanilla and replace cream with same amount of orange or lemon juice.

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