Close your eyes. Take a deep breath of this golden elixir and you’re transported to the raucous spice bazaars of Marrakech. A classic Italian liqueur, popular in cocktails and as an after-dinner digestivo, Strega liqueur can be a cook’s secret weapon. It’s like having a well-stocked spice rack and fragrant herb garden in one bottle.
I’ve long loved Strega’s beguiling flavor in cocktails and as an after-dinner digestive. It appears in my book, “Dolci — Italy’s Sweets,” in several classic Italian desserts. But here’s a surprise: Strega is spectacular in savory dishes!
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Made with more than 70 aromatic spices and herbs infused into a base distillate, this 100% natural mixture — with no artificial colors or flavors — is aged in ash barrels to meld and mellow the flavors. The mix of exotic spices and herbs include the world’s three most expensive spices: saffron, which gives Strega its distinctive glistening yellow tint; vanilla; and cardamom.
Some of the ingredients come right from Italy: lavender, irises, orange and lemon peel, as well as amazingly aromatic juniper from the Italian Alps and rare wild mint from the south. The rest are gathered from around the world: myrrh from Ethiopia, star anise from China, cinnamon from Ceylon, bitter orange peel from the Caribbean island of Curaçao.
This aromatic mix of herbs and spices is masterfully combined in perfect proportion, creating an explosion of flavors and lending a gourmet touch to appetizers, pasta, chicken and fish, as well as countless desserts. Use it in recipes calling for wine or as a marinade for chicken or fish. It’s great on almost anything on the grill.
And, of course, Strega adds a refined touch to so many desserts: splash on fruit salad, add into pudding, cake mixes, pie crust and pie fillings. You probably have a bottle of Strega languishing in your liquor cabinet already — so move it into the pantry! Here are just a few of the many wonderful ways to enjoy it out of the glass.
Pasta Shish Kebob With Peaches and Scallops
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
From “Pasta Modern –New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Pasta, scallops, sweet peaches and red onion grilled on a stick — this is Italy’s delightful answer to shish kebob. A wonderfully new way to serve pasta.
8 short rosemary branches or wooden skewers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Strega liqueur
1 garlic clove, finely minced
8 large scallops
1 peach, cut into 8 slices
1/2 small red onion, cut into bite-sized pieces
Fresh or dried chili pepper, to taste
16 wheel–shaped “route” pasta
1. Soak the branches or skewers in water for 1 hour to prevent charring.
2. Preheat the broiler or grill. (If using the broiler, coat a baking sheet with a little olive oil.)
3. In a bowl, combine the oil, Strega liqueur, garlic, scallops, peach, onion and chili pepper.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and toss into the bowl with the other ingredients. Thread a pasta wheel, peach slice, scallop, onion piece, and a second pasta wheel onto each branch or skewer. Season the skewers with salt and grill or broil, turning 1/2 turn every minute or so, until the scallops are done, about 3 minutes.
Chicken With Artichokes
From “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (about 4 pounds)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup Strega liqueur
1 lemon, unpeeled, diced
6 dates, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 artichoke bottoms, cleaned, par-boiled
1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
2. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and brown the chicken on all sides.
3. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the stock, Strega liqueur, lemon, dates, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and then add the chicken and artichokes.
4. Reduce to medium heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Turn over the chicken, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is fork tender.
Main photo: A mix of exotic spices and herbs gives Strega its distinctive tint and flavor. Credit: Copyright 2016 Francine Segan