This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
It's not unusual to see vegetables and herbs in even the most basic cocktails: Think of the mint in your mojito or mint julep, the cucumber in your Pimm's Cup, that stalk of celery stuck into your Bloody Mary.
But the country's more ambitious bartenders are experimenting with exotic herbs to deliciously drinkable results: Jörg Meyer's Gin Basil Smash comes to mind, as do any number of greenmarket delights from bartenders like L.A.'s Matt Biancaniello or Napa's Scott Beattie, who've been blurring the boundaries between cooking and cocktailing for nearly a decade.
A New York City bartender, Vincenzo Cangemi, is taking things a step further when it comes to vegetables, specifically, salad greens, in cocktails: Ten years ago, he was working in Los Angeles alongside Vincenzo Marianella and Cristina Bini, two pioneering Italian bartenders who made fresh ingredients de rigueur in your drinks long before the first speakeasy opened. After a move back to NYC, he's continued to innovate.
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of tasting Cangemi's Over the Field cocktail (see the recipe), which he prepared as a national finalist representing NYC in Bacardi's prestigious international Bacardi Legacy competition. Cangemi muddled arugula into a daiquiri made with white rum, lemon, lime marmalade and yellow Chartreuse. The peppery notes of the arugula paired perfectly with the herbal liqueur and gave the classic rum-lime-sugar combination an earthy quality. He truly rocked rocket in his cocktail.
In addition to arugula, Cangemi has incorporated radicchio, endive and fennel into recipes.
This past year, he returned to the competition's finals with a savory combination of gold rum, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, radish syrup, hibiscus tea and chopped radicchio—and once again, it was sensational. According to Cangemi, who can now be found behind the bar at Extra Fancy in Williamsburg (he also consults on cocktails at Harlem's Babbalucci), these drinks were inspired by the rustic cooking he grew up with in Sicily, where everything comes from the garden.
In addition to arugula and radicchio, Cangemi has incorporated endive and fennel, a Sicilian staple, into other recipes. A relative newcomer to Extra Fancy, Cangemi hasn't placed any of his innovative creations on the menu just yet—but we're rooting for him to open his salad bar soon.
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