By Murray Schulman
We made it through the heat in July this year. August wasn’t much better. It felt like August in New Jersey, hot and sticky. I did manage to get out there and fire up the grill several times. We purchased a giant patio umbrella last year toward the end of the season. This thing is huge and covers most of our small back patio. The shade did help a bit. Liz managed short intervals of sitting out there, book in hand. I did try to offer my company by joining her under the umbrella. Yep, that lasted about six minutes before I was running for the air conditioning.
Of course, our food selections change in these conditions. I tended to shy away from serious heavy cooking projects. Instead, I opted to hit our local farm market at least twice each week. Liz finds all sorts of recipes online that she sends to me. Some are good and some, well, not so much. I probably mentioned this to you in other columns in IAH. I take the good ones and change them to suit my fancy and our tastes. Unless I am baking (requiring exact measurements and techniques), I simply have to add my personal twists and “tweaks” to these recipes that Liz shares with me. So far, I am batting .1000.
For example, there was a recipe posted for baked peaches. Super simple and straightforward. Fresh peaches, a dab of butter, a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon and pop it in the oven. Not bad at all. Even better though when I added a bit more spice and some red table wine for poaching. Add a fresh Bing cherry half for garnish, raise the oven temperature and change from bake to convection roast. Thirty-five minutes later, that simple recipe becomes a masterpiece. Add a scoop of your favorite ice cream to the warm baked peaches and you are living large.
Of course, I would talk about dessert first. I was also interested in cold, full-flavored dishes packed with protein and super satisfying. Again, the original version for this Italian-style bean and tuna salad was just fine as it was presented. I made a few changes that added texture, flavor, volume and color to the recipe. My version combines cucumber, red pepper, Bermuda onion, fresh parsley, diced Jersey tomatoes, Cannellini beans, black beans, lemon zest and a simple red wine vinaigrette. This can be a stand-alone salad. Or, add flaked tuna, salmon or diced chicken to create a beautiful and delicious cool main course.
Getting back to my story, we have been staying cool and enjoying these summer dishes for a while now. However, the time inevitably comes when the craving for some serious food is overwhelming. Liz and I could fight it no longer. It was a Sunday afternoon when we ventured out in search of an off-the-beaten- path, old-school Italian-style restaurant. Chianti in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, is serious about their food. Sunday starts with a brunch early in the day. In the afternoon when we arrived, it was all about the full dinner menu. Isn’t that how it should be on a Sunday afternoon?
Liz and I were famished by the time we arrived. We could smell the aroma of mouthwatering delights as
soon as we stepped out of the car. Inside was dark wood and exposed brick with a wood-fired pizza oven and smiling staff. An outrageous plate of garlic bread was immediately delivered to
We started out with the Arancini. There were three huge rice balls stuffed with meat, peas and creamy cheesy deliciousness. They were served with, what else, perfect Sunday gravy.
Between the bread and the Arancini, Liz was already starting to feel full. She opted for a plate of Penne Pomodoro. Simple and delicious, the pasta was perfectly cooked and served steaming hot and smothered in a sauce loaded with chunks of local tomato and of course garlic and fresh basil.
I was a bit more adventurous. Opting
for the Boscaiola. This dish combined rigatoni pasta with sweet sausage, Kalamata olives, mushrooms and a mushroom blush sauce that was velvety smooth and exploding with flavor. This was exactly the type of dish that I needed to satisfy my cravings.
Owner and staff truly know how to make guests feel at home. We did get a bit of a laugh when I requested the appetizer using the Italian name and our server proudly stated that he was an Irishman. In any language, he
did a great job with our service.
We did get a treat from the owner when he offered a taste of his home-made limoncello, which was over the top. For a moment, I had flashbacks to our time in Positano (almost). We topped this
off with a spoonful of his frozen strawberries in vodka. Both Liz and I walked away with full bellies and big smiles on our faces.
Again and again we confirm the fact that food may be simple and light or big bold
and heavy. If prepared with a touch of creativity, a splash of passion and a sprinkle of love, whatever you make will be beautiful and delicious. IAH