Florence’s hot temperatures, al fresco dining and a busy open-air arts and concert season make it one of Italy’s most vibrant cities in the summer.
The classic Italian dinner, or “cena”, has a very specific structure. Traditional dinners begin with “apertivo,” which is usually a drink with snacks to get ready for the large meal to come. “Antipasta,” the appetizer, comes next, followed by the “primo”, which can be a pasta, a soup, polenta or a rice dish. The “secondo” follows the primo, which is the major protein of the meal, consisting of meat, eggs or fish and often accompanied by “contorno,” or a side dish of vegetables. The meal is then topped off by “dolce,” dessert and a “café,” coffee.
At the heart of Florentine cuisine, you will find bread (plain, unsalted, well-baked with a crispy crust and light and airy inside); without any doubt the best extra-virgin olive oil, Florentine steaks of beef, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and wine.
There is a reason that Italians live long lives and everyone looks healthy and happy: they eat really, really well with a focus on seasonal vegetables, simple cooking techniques and lots of olive oil. The bean and chickpea salads we serve at backyard barbecues, marinated vegetable salads and the cooling end to a meal with panna cotta and gelato, all have their roots in Italian summer recipes. There is even a minestrone designated for summer and it is one of the best because of all the fresh tomatoes and squash available at this time of year.
Italian cocktails… are delicious year-round. But in summer, when the temperature rises and the humidity sets in, there’s nothing more refreshing than—a Bellini, spritz or limoncello.
Eat the Italian way: slowly and moderately, while enjoying the food and each other’s company.
This classic was first created for Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 at Florence’s Café Casoni.
For each cocktail:
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. gin
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
Stir Campari, gin and vermouth in an ice-filled tumbler; pour into a glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Pesto Caprese Salad
Serve with Italian bread.
- 6-8 fresh tomatoes, depending on their size
- 8 ounces fresh Mozzarella cheese
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons basil pesto
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- High quality balsamic vinegar
Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and place on a serving platter. Slice the mozzarella cheese about 1/4 inch thick. Place cheese slices between the tomato slices. Tuck fresh basil leaves in between the tomatoes and the cheese.
For the dressing:
Stir together the basil pesto and olive oil to make a thin dressing. Drizzle over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Splash a little balsamic vinegar over the salad. Serve.
Pasta zucchine e ricotta
- 8 medium-sized zucchini
- 20 leaves of basil
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 oz. ricotta cheese
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 oz. short pasta, such as penne
- Grated parmesan cheese for serving
Slice the zucchini into rounds and cut each round in half.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the zucchini on a high heat until they turn lightly brown.
Add the garlic, cook for 5 seconds and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so that the garlic infuses the zucchini but does not burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (a good minute or two less than the package instructions; until it is cooked but still firm to the bite).
Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
In a warmed bowl, combine the pasta with the ricotta, remaining olive oil and the pasta cooking water.
Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and stir into the pasta. Serve with grated cheese.
Tuscan Pork with Spinach and Chickpeas
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2″-thick slices
- 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 can (15 ounces) chopped Italian tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 bags (10 ounces each; 15 ounces total) baby spinach leaves (15 cups)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes until the onion softens. Push the onions to one side of the pan.
Add the pork. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning once, until well browned on both sides. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt. Stir. Adjust the heat so the sauce is at a moderate simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the spinach, a large handful at a time, covering the pan between each addition. Cook until all the spinach wilts. Remove the pork to a serving plate.
Add the lemon juice to the pan. Stir to combine. Spoon the spinach mixture over the pork slices. Serve.
Zabaglione & Orange Liqueur
Use any fruit that is in season in this recipe.
- 3 cups peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices
- 3 tablespoons crumbled amaretti cookies
- 1 pound fresh strawberries, cut into quarters
- 7 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
- 6 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Fresh mint for garnish
In the top half of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to a creamy consistency. Place the egg mixture over the hot water in the bottom of the double boiler, making sure that the pot containing the eggs doesn’t touch the water. Beat the mixture well with a whisk until it starts to thicken. It should take about 5 minutes. Be careful not to beat too long or you will cook the eggs.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the orange liqueur, whisking until it is well incorporated. Return the pan to the double boiler and whisk until the mixture is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Divide the strawberries and peaches among 6 wine glasses or dessert bowls, Sprinkle each with the amaretti crumbs and spoon 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur over each. Top with some of the custard and decorate each with a mint sprig, if you wish.
This dessert can be eaten warm or it can be refrigerated and eaten later.