It’s wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun again as we head into summer. In Italy also, temperatures start to soar in June and visions of beautiful, brightly coloured fruits, vegetables and herbs can be seen in abundance. When I was young, I would help my father nell’orto, (in the vegetable garden), harvesting his modest crop and quite literally reaping the fruits of his Spring labour. We would gather plump tomatoes – cherry, plum and beef – that would provide a summer staple and provide passata for the Winter. Meanwhile, we were blessed with an abundance of fresh peppers, courgettes, artichokes, figs, cherries and much more, which would flourish all summer.
As the temperatures rise, we Italians opt for lighter fresher dishes. We eat seasonal produce, and the summer crop lends itself to an array of refreshing yet simple dishes to enjoy anywhere.
Succulent, fresh beef tomatoes are wonderful simply chopped up and piled high upon friselle, before a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Courgettes, can be sliced and grilled with garlic to make a tasty yet simple side dish. Alternatively, a simple courgette and mint soup provides a refreshing and light alternative to enjoy hot or cold on a summer’s day.
We Italians love our cured meats and nothing beats Bresaola della Valtellina – a top quality cured meat obtained from the best cuts of beef hindquarters. It is delicious simply arranged on a plate with some rocket, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan shavings and a basket of home made Italian focaccia before drizzling with good quality extra virgin olive oil. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, oregano and black pepper. Alternatively use parma ham, which can also be served with melon for a refreshing treat.
Another popular Italian summer dish is 'insalata di riso', (rice salad). This modest dish consists of rice combined with fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, olives and pickled artichokes, with cheese, ham or tuna. Though assembled when hot, the dish is left to cool for several hours in the refrigerator - perfect for taking on an afternoon’s picnic on the beach.
In Italy, Summer also marks the lead up to Ferragosto – a public national celebration of the holidays. It originates from 18 BC, when Emperor Augustus is said to have established several festive days in the month of August as a break from agricultural labour. As Italians everywhere enjoy time off work and school to flock to the seaside, the big cities are left like ghost towns. As Italians hit the coast and the sunshine dawns, we see a marked increase in the consumption of fish and shellfish, one of the most common summer foods. Dishes such as 'spaghetti allo scoglio' (spaghetti served with mussels, clams, and shrimps) make the perfect summer lunch.
And of course, we never forget to top off the day with lemon sorbet and a crisp prosecco!