The Al Fresco Season
The key ingredients of summer are classically Italian: seasonal produce, quality oils and affogato, of course
The Quintessential image of Canadian summer is a family packing their car to the brim with a week’s worth of hot dogs, burgers and assorted condiments and hightailing it to cottage country. While there’s nothing wrong with a dockside grill and a cool cocktail, there’s definitely a way to make summer meals more gourmet without having to tax your time and energy.
To my mind, elevating any al fresco meal involves cooking and dining the Italian way. That means emphasizing freshness and simplicity, and having a few constants always on your table—like a basket of fruit for the kids to pick over, or a spread of fresh Ontario tomatoes, basil and bocconcini topped with a web of oils and vinegars. What’s more, there are a few ingredients I keep on hand that I consider essential to celebrating summer in Italian style:
Olio and olives: You can’t live on bread alone, which is why you need a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil to dip it in. I prefer EVOO from artisanal producers in Tuscany or Abruzzo—ideally, a variety that’s more sweet than bitter. And contrary to popular belief, the colour of the oil doesn’t have to be green to signify quality. At Pusateri’s, we also carry a unique variety of olives from around world. I love Sarafino’s Homestyle Baked Olives, prepared with hot pepper, garlic, oregano and fennel seeds. Baking these black olives makes them especially mouth-puckering—salty and dry in the best sense.
Formaggio: Growing up, parmigiano was a staple in my home, and I continue to grate parm on many of my summer dishes, especially fresh pasta. I also swear by mozzarella di bufala by BUFA, based in Calabria. It’s gorgeously pillowy with a melt-in-your-mouth centre, like burrata.
Pomodoro: If parmigiano is the king of cheese, San Marzano tomatoes are the queen of tomatoes. We only carry the best imported D.O.P. San Marzanos, which are perfect for pasta sauce. And of course, ’tis the season for fresh, local, heirloom tomatoes. They’re so sweet and juicy, I have been known to eat them like apples.
Pasta: I love the new handmade pasta that’s available for either dining in or takeout from the Champagne Bar at our Queen Street store. You can choose from a selection of shapes and sauces. The pasta is heavenly, made from scratch by the local producer Ama, with semolina imported from Italy.
Fiori di zucca: Otherwise known as zucchini flowers, these are a staple this time of year at Pusateri’s. You can find them fresh in our produce department. They are perfection when floured and fried in olive oil.
Dolci: To keep sweet things simple, we often enjoy fresh local berries drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or scoops of gelato for the kids. A standout I love is affogato—rich espresso poured over ice cream, which makes a perfect endnote on any July evening. And, as with many Italians, there’s the cold espresso: made, frozen and served in slushy form—in true summer fashion.
This Month’s Recipe
Each flavour speaks volumes in this novel grilled pizza: pesto, mozzarella di bufala, green grapes, olives, arugula and pine nuts.
- 1 pkg Molisano prepared pizza dough
- 1/4 cup Le Grand Pesto
- 1 pkg BUFA Mozzarella di Bufala, torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup green grapes, halved
- 1/4 cup crushed Morgantino olives
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1/2 cup arugula
- 2 tbsp Olearia San Giorgio Alta Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Preheat barbeque grill to medium-high heat.
- On a floured pizza board or counter, roll out the pizza dough to 1/4” thick for a thin crust pizza or 1/2” thick for a thick crust pizza.
- Brush both sides of the dough with olive oil and place on preheated grill for 30-40 seconds per side, or until the dough is nicely grill-marked.
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Build your pizza using the pesto as the “sauce” on your grilled pizza dough, then top with torn mozzarella, grapes, olives and pine nuts.
- Place on a pizza wheel or sheet pan and bake until the mozzarella has melted and the crust has reached your desired level of crispness, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and top arugula.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Slice and serve immediately.
We love this combination of ingredients, but remember that this is a “pizza”. The grilled dough is your canvas to top as you please.
Ingredients available at Pusateri’s Fine Foods
TASTE YOUR WAY THROUGH SOUTHERN ITALY!
Enter for a chance to win a 10-day culinary vacation for two to Italy’s Calabria region. Shop in store and visit pusateris.com/italia for more details.