Alimentary, My Dear
My New Main Squeeze, or …
Why I ♥ Amore!
By Tamia Nelson
March 20, 2012
Gloria was a woman ahead of her time. A market researcher with an advanced degree in math, she'd risen to the top of a large international company based in New York City. Now she'd retired to the rural backwater where I grew up. And despite the difference in our ages, we shared many interests. Cooking (and eating) headed the list.
One warm summer afternoon, Gloria dropped by with a gift. She handed me a small glass jar filled with a vibrant green substance, the likes of which I'd never seen before. "Open it," she urged. I did, and even before I'd lifted the lid I was enveloped by the mingled scents of basil, garlic, and olive oil — three of my favorite things, as it happens. In answer to my questioning gaze, Gloria told me the name of this magical mixture: basil pesto. She'd made it fresh that morning by pounding pine nuts in a large stone mortar, together with basil leaves and garlic cloves from her garden. Then she'd scraped the resulting paste into a bowl and stirred in some freshly grated Parmesan, a pinch of coarse kosher salt, and enough extra‑virgin olive oil to yield a smooth, thick, granular sauce.
I dipped a piece of bread into the jar, daubed a smidgeon of pesto on the end, bit down, and was immediately transported. It was truly love at first bite. Gloria wasn't surprised, and she lost no time in telling me about her favorite way to use the marvelous stuff. She boiled pasta in salted water till it was al dente, drained it, and then returned it to the pot — did I mention that she had a kitchen bigger than many apartments I've lived in? — adding just enough pesto to coat each piece of pasta lightly. And that's exactly what I made for dinner that evening. It was delicious. I polished my plate clean with the heel of a French loaf, just to make sure no morsel escaped.
Pasta with pesto is still a favorite dish, and over the years I've done my best to develop a portable version for camp meals. This hasn't been easy. Fresh pesto doesn't keep well without refrigeration, and glass jars don't have any place in a paddler's pack. When stored in plastic, however, pesto has a disconcerting tendency to seep out around the seal. (I like garlic, but I can't recommend garlic‑flavored coffee.) And the commercial dry pesto mixes I've sampled have all tasted mostly of salt. Stalemate.
I've also tried deconstructing pesto and making it fresh in camp from dried basil, grated Parmesan, walnut pieces (these travel better than pine nuts, which quickly go rancid), and olive oil. That yielded the best results, but it was still a far cry from the standard established by Gloria's homemade pesto. In the end, I decided it was simply too much trouble. So I reluctantly dropped pesto pasta from my backcountry menu.
But then an In the Same Boat reader turned me on to …
Pesto (and More) in a Tube
Lisa and I share a passion for camp cookery. We swap recipes and compare notes. And one day I found this in my in‑box:
Have you seen any of the Amore tubes for sale in the store? I like their pesto, garlic paste, and sun‑dried tomato, as well as their regular tomato paste. They have really amped up my kayak cookery!
My answer to Lisa's query was short and to the point: No, I'd never seen Amore pastes in any of the stores I frequent. Which wasn't much of a surprise. The northern foothills of the Adirondacks aren't exactly an epicure's paradise. Fried bread and barbecued chicken wings pass for haute cuisine hereabouts. A handful of college‑town supermarkets offer the widest selection of foodie fare, but even these can't be described as cutting‑edge. Hearing this, Lisa took pity on me and sent me three tubes of Amore paste to show me what I was missing. (NB With the exception of review copies of books, I don't accept free samples of products from retailers or manufacturers. But that doesn't keep me from accepting — and appreciating — gifts from friends.)
Anyway, here's what I found after I'd opened Lisa's package and cracked the seals on the tubes:
The Amore tubes look a little — OK, a lot — like old‑fashioned alloy toothpaste tubes, but they contain the concentrated essences of basil pesto, garlic paste, and sun‑dried tomato. The highly concentrated essences. A little goes a very long way. Unless you're catering for a Scout troop, a single tube will see you through almost any trip that doesn't require multiple food packs.
Let's consider what Amore has to offer canoeists and kayakers:
- The tubes travel well, and …
- Their contents don't require refrigeration (but see note below).
- Best of all, the flavors are bold.
Now let's take a closer look at each of these points. Metal tubes can't shatter, and though the caps on the Amore tubes sometimes do a less than perfect job — I'll have more to say about this later — your coffee is safe. Of course, a crushed tube would certainly make a smelly mess of any pack. The bears might find the result attractive, but you probably wouldn't. The remedy? Put the tubes in a hard plastic water bottle or other rigid container. But what about refrigeration? Well, the garlic paste tube tells you to "Refrigerate After Opening," and the Amore website suggests refrigerating all opened tubes. It also recommends using the contents within 45 days of cracking the seal, in order to ensure "optimal enjoyment." As it happens, I've been keeping my opened tubes on a shelf in my kitchen for two months now, and so far my enjoyment is unimpaired. Still, my kitchen is pretty chilly throughout much of the year (55‑65 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact). I don't think I'd count on the contents of an opened tube yielding "optimal enjoyment" for more than a week or so in high summer without refrigeration. When warm weather returns, I'll put this hypothesis to the test.
But that lies in the future, when I also hope to sample the entire line of Amore pastes, including plain tomato, "herb," anchovy, and hot pepper. For the present, however, my experience is limited to the three Amore products in the photo. Make no mistake. These unconventionally packaged savories are real food, for real people. Take the pesto, for instance:
It looks a lot like Gloria's pesto, in fact, and while the basil isn't quite as sweet, nor the olive oil quite so aromatic, the Amore pesto comes very close to what I've come to regard as the gold standard in pestos. The ingredient list is mercifully short, too: basil, sunflower oil, olive oil, salt, pine nuts, garlic, and citric acid. There's no Parmesan, but that's easy to add. And if you think there's not enough garlic in the pesto, you can always top it up with some Amore garlic paste:
You're looking at about a teaspoon of paste here. Amore claims that this is the equivalent of a clove of garlic, and I see no reason to disagree. The paste comes pretty close to what you'd get if you minced fresh garlic and mixed in some oil. (The listed ingredients are garlic, sunflower oil, salt, olive oil, and citric acid.) Garlic‑lovers won't be disappointed, and I think the paste is delicious straight up, spread sparingly on toasted boule — though I find that adding a little of Amore's sun‑dried tomato paste …
… makes a good thing even better. Once again, the list of ingredients on the tube is encouragingly short: sun‑dried tomatoes, sunflower oil, vinegar, salt, olive oil, and "spices." Whatever these mysterious spices may be — and I think I detect a hint of oregano — the resulting flavor is quite pleasant, although this is the saltiest of the three pastes. On the other hand, there's none of the metallic tang that often mars canned tomato paste. Advantage Amore, I'd say.
Enough of these preliminaries. Let's explore …
How to Use Amore Pastes in Camp Menus
I began with the pesto. I cooked up a small amount of angel‑hair pasta, and while it was still hot and moist I tossed it with a little of the cooking water and a heaping teaspoon of Amore pesto paste. I didn't add anything else. I wanted to sample the Amore pesto when it stood alone. And I'm happy to say that it passed the test. Then I made more pasta, trying each of my three Amore pastes in turn. Here are the before‑and‑after shots:
Starting on the left and moving clockwise in each panel you see pesto, garlic paste, and sun‑dried tomato. This time around I added grated Parmesan cheese and cracked pepper, too. I was well satisfied with the results. Pasta is one of my favorite quick meals, both at home and in camp, and the Amore pastes make it easy to throw together a minimalist dinner. But this is only the beginning. You can also …
- Mix Amore paste with other pastas (don't forget tortellini), or with …
- Rice (and other grains, too).
- Spread it on meat or fish for satays, sautés or kebabs.
- Add it to stir‑fry, …
- Hot soups, and stews.
- Spread it on bread, whether toasted or not, and use it to top …
- Stir it into chili.
- Add it to quesadillas or tortillas.
- Squeeze it over eggs.
- Fold it into cheese fondue.
And there's no reason you can't mix and match the contents of different tubes in single dishes, as well. Or combine Amore pastes with other condiments (perhaps from individual serving packets), devising unique sauces for meat and fish, not to mention pasta or rice — and other grains, too, including steel‑cut oats and quinoa. Combinations worth exploring include …
- Pesto with mayonnaise.
- Hot pepper paste with mayonnaise and sweet relish.
- Garlic paste and mustard, with maple syrup or honey.
- Garlic paste and hot pepper paste, mixed with peanut butter and soy sauce.
Mayonnaise‑ and mustard‑based sauces are great with fish, satays, and stir‑fried vegetables, while peanut butter‑based sauce is delicious with stir‑fry or when tossed with hot pasta and a handful of peanuts. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for satays.
Other possibilities? How about …
Red Sauce? Garlic and tomato or sun‑dried tomato pastes make a very flavorful tomato sauce. Use it on pizza and quesadillas. Or add a blob to pasta along with a few spoonfuls of the cooking water and then toss. Or stir it into chunks of tuna or salmon from aseptic packets, add some oregano, and serve with pasta or rice.
Salsa? Blend tomato paste with hot pepper and garlic pastes until you're happy with the result. Now stir your paste medley into chopped bell peppers and onions, adding dried cilantro to taste. Add a bit of lime juice, too, if you have it. Then use the salsa as a dip for pita or tortillas toasted in a hot skillet. Or combine it with the grated cheese that you sprinkle over tortillas to make quesadillas. Or fold scrambled eggs with salsa in a tortilla.
Barbecue Sauce? Put some sun‑dried tomato paste and a touch of garlic paste into a small cup. Stir in a bit of brown sugar and perhaps a few drops of vinegar (if you have it in your food pack). Now spread the sauce on meat, fish, or tofu, and grill.
And last, but certainly not least, consider the following:
Bruschetta This is toast with a difference. Slice crusty bread about an inch thick and toast on both sides over coals or in a lightly oiled skillet. Spread a very thin layer of garlic paste on one side of each slice of bread, then drizzle a little olive oil over the paste. You can eat the bruschetta now, or you can go one step further, spreading another layer of sun‑dried tomato paste or herb paste — or both — over the bread and sprinkling with grated Parmesan.
Caesar Pasta Pick your pasta. When it's cooked al dente, shut down your stove or remove the pot from the fire. Now drain off all but a little bit of the cooking water — leave only enough to cover the bottom of the pot — and stir in a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze each of garlic and anchovy paste, and a few healthy shakes of grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste, toss the pasta till the sauce coats every piece, and serve with crushed garlic croutons on top.
That's quite a repertoire of possibilities, isn't it? But I'm sure you can think of many more uses for these handy tubes. Before you throw a brace in your pack, however, there are …
A Few More Things You Should Know About Amore
Once the tubes are opened, they leak. At least some do. The caps don't always close tightly. (This isn't just me. Lisa's also had the same problem.) And since you probably don't want your sleeping bag seasoned with pesto, I'll repeat my earlier suggestion that you pack the tubes in a water bottle. Belt‑and‑suspenders types might want to put the tubes in a ziplock bag, too. It's also a good idea to place the bottles with the Amore tubes near the middle of your food pack, where they'll be protected from most temperature extremes.
One last hint: If you're having trouble finding Amore pastes in your local HyperMart, don't worry. You can buy them from many online merchants. Just let your fingers do the walking on your keyboard.
Ever since a neighbor introduced me to pesto many years ago, I've been a fan. But I never found a good way to bring this wonderful garlic and oil sauce into the backcountry. Until a friend tipped me off about Amore pastes, that is. Now I can have pasta with pesto anytime (and anywhere) I want it, and with no more trouble than it takes to squeeze toothpaste from a tube. That's why I ♥ Amore pastes!
- "It's Alimentary, My Dear"
- "Navigating Through Ten Years of 'Alimentary, My Dear'"
- "Everything Pasta"
- "Homework That Saves You Time"
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