I had too many books to review this summer and before it gets any later, I just have to give a shout-out to RECIPES FROM AN ITALIAN SUMMER (Phaidon; $39.95; ISBN: 978-0-7148-5773-2). Collected by the editors of the legendary The Silver Spoon cookbook, here's a cookbook to take advantage of a long summer of la dolce vita.
"Italian summer food is simple to prepare and makes the best possible use of a
huge variety of season produce."
The 400 never-before published recipes are organized into picnics, salads, barbecues, light lunches and suppers, summer entertaining, desserts, ice creams and drinks. This visually sumptuous cookbook is so striking and inviting, you're instantly immersed in it's summery glow. So many of recipes here feature few ingredients, demonstrating that great summer food is best enjoyed as simply as possible to let summer's bounty shine. Lidia Bastianich first introduced me to the concept of rice salads as ideal summer fare, and I now make them all the time, especially when I'm going to a party and I'm asked to bring something. You can put almost anything in them from meat, seafood and poultry to cheese, a huge variety of vegetables, herbs--whatever. They feed a crowd, are easy to assemble and delicious. Try the Piquant Rice Salad at your next picnic instead of heavier mayonnaise-based potato or macaroni salads. Best of all they can safely sit on a warm table without worry of spoiling. A Peach Salad with lettuce strips, low-fat yogurt, and walnuts, at first sounds different, and it is. But it's delicious. Corn and Mozzarella Salad have a natural affinity and with diced tomatoes, it's very pretty.
Grilled foods are an Italian summer specialty, and Grilled Stuffed Squid, Lamb Chops with Anchovy Butter, Mixed Fish Kabobs, the famous Florentine T-bone Steak, and Grilled Eggplant are some of the fabulously grilled foods here. The barbecue section begins with a wealth of marinades and flavored butters that enhance these dishes.
Summer's heat encourages lighter suppers and Farro and Shrimp Salad, Radicchio, Turkey, and Snow Pea Salad are good choices. While scanning the pizza section, I found a Potato Pizza that I ate on my very first visit to Rome and never forgot. Eggplant, Shrimp and Arugula, and a Fisherman's Pizza with baby octopus, shrimp, clams and mussels could become new summer classics.
In the summer Italians love to linger over long dinners with family and friends. Canapes, crostini, bruschetta are simple, flavorful starters. Soups (there's a gorgeous Milanese Minestrone with pancetta) and lots of vegetables), risottos (a surprising Strawberry version), fish (Fish Couscous), poultry (a wow Quail with White Grapes) and meat main courses (Veal Roulades in Aspic and Vitello Tonnato), are the kinds of recipes I want on my patio table.
Desserts can be a simple as Figs with Cream or a Cherry Compote, or a very pretty Peach Aspic. Iced Raspberry and Strawberry Souffle is an impressive company dessert as is Fruits of the Forest Tart with its rows of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and red currants over a pastry tart dough filled with creme patissiere. There's also a fine section of ice creams and my own favorite, a Raspberry Semifreddo.
These days with so many of us close to farmer's markets, it's easy to imagine your own Italian Summer meals. I hope you'll get a copy of this lovely book with its painterly scenes of the Italian countryside. The enticing recipes and gorgeous photos should help get you through the long winter.
Piquant Rice Salad
Insalata di riso piccante
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15-18 minutes
1 ¼ cups long-grain rice
½ cup shelled peas
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
3 ounces canned anchovies, drained and chopped
scant 1 cup pitted olives
1 tablespoon rinsed and drained capers
generous 1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, strained
salt and pepper
Cook the rice in a large pan of salted boiling water for 15-18 minutes, or according to package directions, until tender. Meanwhile, cook the peas in a small pan of salted boiling water for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the rice, rinse under cold running water, and drain again. Drain the peas and refresh in cold water.
Put the rice and peas into a bowl and add the strips of bell pepper, anchovies, olives, and capers. Whisk together the oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the salad.
Semifreddo ai lamponi
Preparation Time: 4 ½ hours (including freezing)
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
6 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar
1 ½ cups raspberries
3 cups heavy cream
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a heatproof bowl until they are light and foamy. Set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled completely. Put the raspberries into a shallow dish and mash to a coarse puree with a fork. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to stiff peaks, then fold in the egg mixture and the raspberry puree. Line a rectangular, freezerproof container with plastic wrap. Pour in the mixture and smooth the surface. Put the container into the freezer and freeze for at least 4 hours. To serve, briefly dip the bottom of the container in hot water and turn out the semifreddo onto a dish. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and cut the semifreddo into 1/2 –inch slices.