Father’s Day is less than two weeks away, which means that you have precious little time left to shop for ugly ties and golf equipment that your husband or son or father will ever put to use. Unless, of course, you choose to take the path less trammeled and finally--finally!--get a gift that he’ll love.
The old cliche--that the surest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach--is more true now than it ever has been before. Men, after all, aren’t just eaters anymore, but more and more frequently amateur chefs. Most of my male friends, for example, actually find it relaxing after a day of work to hit the market and prepare the kind of dinner that would have seemed unspeakably elaborate to prior generations of guys. Maybe it has something to do with the satisfying thwack! of a knife against a cutting board. Or the primal comfort of a piece of flesh sizzling against a fire-warmed skillet. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.
Food, after all, is one of the great modes of affordable travel: A simple curry cooked up on the stove top can, for an evening at least, transport you from your humdrum suburban kitchen to the impossibly exotic environs of faraway India. Same with a perfect chimichurri and a grilled piece of beef. Or the perfect simplicity of a regional Italian meal made with only a few impeccable ingredients.
It’s this last one, in fact, that I think would make a perfect Father’s Day gift. I recently had the chance to sample a number of offerings from the excellent Sickles Market in Little Silver, New Jersey, and would love if someone got me a basket for the big day. (Full disclosure: The market sent me a sample package for my consideration. As with press samples of wine, there is and never will be a quid pro quo: I only cover what I like, and never recommend anything that I find in any way deficient.)
The market--still a family affair--has been in business for over 100 years. In addition to a range of food, home, kitchen, and garden wares, among much more, it specializes in the kind of artisanal Italian products that have come to define the glories of regional Italian eating. (In fact, the family will be running a gourmet tour of Sicily in October; click here for details.) The quality of the products is impeccable--good enough by far that even less-accomplished home cooks can whip up something impressive by doing little more than simply allowing them to speak for themselves.
Everyday pasta is easily elevated to another level entirely with a drizzle of the wonderfully earthy, gently spicy Cavalli Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Over a deceptively simple bowl of squid-ink-blackened spaghetti from Puglia’s De Carolis--the edges of each strand just rough enough to hold onto whatever sauce or liquid they’re served with--it’s a riff on surf and turf that any serious food lover could appreciate. With a good eye and a bit of creativity, the components build on one another: Add a spoonful of Bottega Calabria Dinamite Calabrian Viagru to the warm pasta, and the complicated interplay of earth and spice and deep savoriness lifts the dish even higher.
Mirogallo rolled zucchini in olive oil, with their center of sun-dried tomatoes, are a perfect appetizer. Amazing Usticia lentils, smaller than pencil erasers and as nutty and tender as most store-bought ones are merely vessels for whatever you boil them in, are a revelation. (They’re also organically farmed, picked by hand, and the product of a single family: It’s as artisanal as it gets.) End a meal with a good soft cow’s milk cheese slathered on a hunk of Italian bread and kissed with a bit of Fagone onion jam, a sweet Sicilian condiment that’s difficult not to eat on its own with a spoon. Bottega Calabria licorice jam also accompanies a range of cheeses beautifully. Bonajuto dark chocolate, each piece floral with cardamom and savory with the perfect hit of salt, accompanies espresso infinitely better than whatever you’ve been snacking on with it lately. D. Barbero Cioccolateria grissini ricoperti al cioccolato--a much more impressive way of saying chocolate-covered breadsticks--are like the perfect Italian version of chocolate-covered pretzels, but because of the delicacy of the breadstick itself, far less filling after a big meal--just what you want.
The point is this: Instead of resorting to the same old tired options for Father’s Day this year, consider something else entirely. It’s not only thoughtful and delicious, but it serves selfish purposes for the gift-giver as well: You’ll also benefit from it too, every time the man in your life fires up the stove and works with the beautiful artisanal products in the package. Smart gift-giving, indeed.