I’ve been grilling tons of fruits and vegetables as spring fades and summer approaches — figs, asparagus, plums, you name it. I’ll grill anything that affords the opportunity to break out a prized bottle of saba. Made from the same grape must as that used in vin cotto or balsamic vinegar, saba is the sweet reduction of freshly pressed juice that contains the seeds and skins of the fruit. Typically, this liquid gold is made with Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes, harvested at the start of the wine making process. When the must is condensed into a sweetened nectar (cooked down to about one-third its original volume), you have yourself some saba.
After aging for two years in chestnut and oak barrels, saba adds the caramelized flavor I crave to fruits, cheeses and marinades on and off the grill. Intrigued by the ancient, syrupy condiment, I experimented with saba and a seasonal favorite of mine right now: radishes.
Crisp, crunchy and juicy, every variety of radishes (and there are many!) adds a punchy flavor and color to dishes. I love them raw, wiped across butter and dipped in salt as they’re served at chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune restaurant in New York City. Radishes are also fantastic paired with chilled sherry, which you can find served at my very own Casa Mono in New York City’s Greenwich Village. However, their distinguished peppery taste combined with the sweet flavors of saba, I discovered, rouses the appetite more than any other radish experience I’ve encountered.
Radishes al cartoccio now remains a game-changing recipe I’ll cook throughout summer. Serve them under grilled pork chops paired with a cool rose for a complete meal dining al fresco. If you have a flair for dramatics as I do, serve the packets on platters, then slice them open at the table for your guests. Beware: oh’s and ah’s will ensue.