It’s August, it’s hot and it’s a summer month filled with not only bright shiny vegetables but luscious drip-down-your-chin fruits. Berries, nectarines, plums and peaches are busting out all over. Piles and piles are overflowing at your local markets this month. Peaches, one of my all time favorites, just can’t be beat. Biting into the thin fuzzy skin reveals a sweet and ever so tangy center. When they are ripened to perfection the flavor is deliciously lip-smacking good. There is just something so right about eating them now.
August is one of those months with great meaning for many of us: it’s the beginning of the end of the summer, hurried plans to squeeze in that beach vacation you desperately need or supply shopping for the new school, year just on the horizon. For me it has great significance: it was 6 years ago, this week as a matter of fact, that my professional life changed completely. Leaving behind a private office with a window overlooking 5th Ave in the Empire State Building, to a life in the kitchen. I walked away from a successful 23-year career in the corporate world and basically started over, literally at the bottom. While my steady rise over these past few years hit a few bumps along the road, I have never once regretted the decision.
After several months of basic training at the International Culinary Center I set sail, well, actually flew, to Italy. First training in Colorno, a village near Parma, at ALMA the sister school to ICC; and then my stage (apprenticeship) in the beautiful village of Rivisondoli, Abruzzo, at Ristorante Reale. All told a nine month journey.
When I tell people that story it’s generally met with a sigh and “I wish I could do that” response. Believe me, it sounds much more glamorous and romantic than it was. Probably the hardest part of it all was not so much the work, which I loved, but the isolation of being in two different villages with sketchy internet and phone access to my husband. During my time in Italy I met a host of characters and experienced emotions ranging from exhilaration to desperately missing my family and friends. To help keep me connected I passed the time by blogging to everyone which definitely made the crazy times tolerable.
There are so many glorious things about Italy, not the least of which is a culture of loving life and food – all intertwined and deliciously wonderful. Not only did I learn to cook regional dishes by true Master Chefs but I also watched artisans create foods using century old techniques that by and large don’t exist here. However, my foray into the Farmers Markets of Westchester has given me the chance to see that our own local artisans are working hard to make foods that are real, authentic and delicious for all of us.
So how does this all come around to our beautiful peaches of summer? For those of you that follow me on Small Bites know that I’m always trying to mix things up with my Market finds, and in particular taking sweet things and making them savory. (I love doing that!) When I challenged my dear friend and fellow Small Bites blogger Arlen Gargagliano to a peach competition, I knew what I was getting myself into. She is a fantastic cook, cookbook writer and owner of one of my favorite restaurants in Westchester called Mambo 64. Since her twist on things is typically Latin, I decided to go Italian with mine. Specifically I had an inspiration for a fun little snack called a tramezzino. Tramezzini (the plural) are clever little sandwiches found mainly as bar food in Italy. While we have nuts and sometimes chips, they actually put food down. (Love that!) These little sandwiches range from simple cheese to proteins like tuna and prosciutto. With that in mind I got down to business.
The peach part is fairly simple: slice up firm peaches and sprinkle with a little sugar and caramelize them in a non-stick pan coated with a touch of canola oil.
While the peaches cook you are going to sauté a combination of red bell pepper, red onion, garlic and a pinch of red chili flakes. Once that gets soft it’s pureed to a smooth spread.
Bringing it all together with a paper thin slice of smoky speck and little crunch of crushed almonds.
This was a fun recipe to create and has many levels of flavor that combine into a small bite (no pun intended!) with a big personality.
I hope you will give this one a try, it’s easy, fun and I think a winner this week for not only you, but for the second annual Small Bites Throwdown. To see me making this on–line, and to get the recipe, click this link and don’t forget to vote!
For an in-person taste and demo come to the Hastings Farmers Market this coming Saturday from 10:00-Noon. It’s going to be a fun day!