As the seasons change, so do our appetites and nutritional needs. Between the spring and summer, our food habits undergo a gradual metamorphosis. By the time the hottest months have arrived, most of us are naturally inclined to avoid heavy foods and the long cooking preparations required for them. Leggero (light) or restare leggeri (staying light) is the Italian credo in the summer—fresh, light, colorful and simple foods are what everyone craves on hot days.
Italians tend to eat lukewarm or cold food in the summer; tables are often laden with all kinds of variations of salad—from lettuce-based and raw vegetable salads, to insalata di pasta (pasta salads), insalata di riso (rice salads) and insalata di mare or polpo (seafood or octopus salad).
Insalata di mare (Seafood salad) is a delicate preparation usually made with boiled fresh octopus, clams and mussels; the shellfish open when cooked in a covered pan. Sometimes this salad includes shrimp—previously boiled and cleaned—and baby calamari. Crabmeat or other fresh seafood can also be added. The freshness of the fish, the quality of the extra virgin olive oil and the addition of good-quality lemon make all the difference. The dressing for this salad is made simply with two essential ingredients of the Italian cuisine—lemon and olive oil, along with a bit of garlic, parsley, salt and white pepper. Insalata di polpo (octopus salad) is another favorite in Italy, especially along the coasts. It consists of just boiled fresh octopus and tiny slices of celery, seasoned with the same dressing as in the seafood salad. Sometimes it’s served cold or at room temperature, but it can also be served warm with potatoes.
- 2 fennel bulbs with tops
- 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake, porcini, or button
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 3 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth, heated
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups fresh crabmeat
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
Trim fennel bulbs, reserving tops. Quarter bulbs lengthwise and slice. Measure 1 cup sliced fennel. Snip enough of the fennel tops to measure 1 tablespoon; set aside.
In a large saucepan heat olive oil and cook the 1 cup fennel, the mushrooms, pepper and fennel seed in until tender. Stir in rice. Cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 broth and bring to a boil.
Gradually add the remaining warm chicken broth, one cup at a time, until all the broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Remove saucepan from the heat. Stir in crabmeat and green onions. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the snipped fennel tops and serve. This dish can also be served at room temperature.
- 1 pound homemade or refrigerated pizza dough
- 4 medium plum tomatoes, sliced
- 8-10 oz cooked shrimp (cut in half lengthwise)
- 3 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
- Fresh basil leaves
Lightly grease a baking sheet; set aside. Unroll the pizza dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16 inch rectangle. Cut dough into eight squares.
Place squares about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. If desired, fold over about 1/4 inch of the dough on each edge; press with a fork.
Bake in a 425 degrees F oven for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
Divide tomato slices among the squares. Divide shrimp among the squares. Sprinkle with snipped oregano and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake for 5 to 6 minutes more or until cheese melts. If desired, garnish with basil.
Fettuccine and Scallops in Wine Sauce
- 1 pound fresh scallops
- 6 ounces fettuccine or linguine
- 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 4 medium carrots, thinly sliced (2 cups)
- 8 green onions, sliced (1 cup)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Juice and zest of half a lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cut any large scallops in half.
In a 4 to 5-quart Dutch Oven, bring 3 quarts of water to boiling. Add pasta; return to boiling. Cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrots and green onions. Return to boiling.
Cook, uncovered, for 5 to 7 minutes more or until pasta is tender but al dente and vegetables are crisp-tender. Drain pasta and vegetables; keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl stir together wine, lemon juice and cornstarch; set aside.
In the empty pasta pot melt butter. Add garlic; cook over medium-high heat about 1 minute. Add scallops, wine mixture, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, parsley and pepper to the pan.
Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes more or until the scallops turn opaque.
Arrange pasta mixture on a large platter. Spoon the scallop mixture over the pasta mixture. Makes 4 main-dish servings.
Seafood al Cartoccio (Grilled Red Snapper and Shellfish)
- 4 red snapper fillets, 6 ounces each, skin on, scaled and bones removed
- 6 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined or clams or mussels or a combination of all
- 1/2 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
- 2 basil leaves, chopped
- 2 oregano sprigs, chopped
- Juice of 3 fresh lemons
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Aluminum foil, heavy strength
- Olive oil cooking spray
To make the herb butter
1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until butter is blended evenly.
2. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
To make the foil packets
1. Cut 4 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, approximately 14 x 18 inches in size.
2. Place sheet of foil shiny side down, narrow edge toward you, on the work surface.
3. Spray the foil with cooking spray. Arrange 1 fish fillet skin side down, 3 to 4 shrimp, a few scattered cherry tomatoes and scallions on each foil sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Using a teaspoon, place several small dollops of the herb butter on the fish and shrimp.
4. Fold the foil over the seafood and bring the top and bottom edges together. Fold the edges over several times to make a tight seal and turn edges up.
1. Preheat grill to highest setting.
2. When ready to cook, place the foil cartoccio(skin side down) in the center of the hot grate. Cover the grill and cook until foil pouches are dramatically puffed, approximately 7 to 9 minutes.
3. Remove the packets directly from the grill to a plate. Using a sharp knife, cut the center of the foil pouch lengthwise and open. Be careful of the hot steam.
Marinated Seafood Salad
- 1/2 pound fish fillets of choice
- Poaching liquid
- 1/4 pound small bay scallops
- 1/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
- 1/4 cup sliced celery
- 3/4 cup black olives, halved
- 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
Gently poach fillets, scallops and shrimp in liquid of your choice: water, broth, white wine or a mixture of the liquids.
When fish and shellfish are firm to the touch and cooked through, remove from poaching liquid and cool.
Cut fillets into 1-inch chunks.
Combine fish, scallops, shrimp, celery, olives and green onions in a large mixing bowl. Season with olive oil, lime juice, parsley, salt and cayenne.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Insalata di polpo (Octopus salad) (duespaghetti.com)
- My Seafood Fettuccine With A Garlic Lemon Sauce (lindalouhamel.com)
- Salad Night (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Caprese Salad Tomato Stacks (mccallumsshamrockpatch.wordpress.com)
For most Italians, the sea is never very far away. Though a relatively small country, Italy has 5000 miles of coastline—so it’s easy to understand why fish and “frutti di mare” (literally “the fruits of the sea”) have always had a special importance in Italian daily life and in regional culinary traditions. The love Italians have for fish begins early in life.
Some of the most succulent seafood dishes in the world can be found in Italy. Popular varieties of fish include tuna, anchovies, sardines, swordfish, cod, salmon, shrimp, crab, squid, clams and mussels. Such fish and shellfish are traditionally added to stews, pasta dishes and risotto. Cioppino was developed in San Francisco by Italian-American fishermen, who prepared what they had while on their fishing boats, so they must have used local fish and seasoning. Zuppa di Pesce or Brodetto are the Italian names for fish stews/soups from various Italian regions.
The interesting history behind Italian fish stews stretches back at least five hundred years, as it is believed that fish stew was first made in Livorno around the year 1500. As with many other Italian traditional recipes, there are various legends surrounding its creation, but two of these stories stand out from the rest.
The first legend tells of a fisherman from Livorno who lost his life at sea in a shipwreck. His children were so hungry with no one to provide for them after his death that they turned to all their neighbours for food. Everyone gave them different types of fish, with which their mother made a huge soup, adding tomatoes, garlic, oil and slices of bread – thus creating the first cacciucco (fish stew). The second is that a lighthouse keeper created the stew. The Florentine Republic had prohibited the use of olive oil which he always used to fry his fish and, so rather than having his favorite “fritto”, he made a fish soup instead. The most realistic explanation is that after having sold what they fished, fishermen’s families had to cook with whatever had remained unsold, thus starting the tradition of mixing all kinds of fish together. The traditional recipe calls for thirteen different kinds of fish as ingredients, but nowadays, most people use between six and eight varieties.
Entertaining at Home
I have always enjoyed entertaining and inviting friends and family over for a dinner party or informal pizza get-togethers. I learned quickly that it is a good idea to plan menu items that allow for advanced preparation, so that I could spend time with my guests instead of cooking in the kitchen. The menu below is an example of how most of the preparation for the menu items can be done ahead of time. The appetizer can be breaded ahead of time and placed in the baking dishes until close to serving time. Just before your guests arrive, you can drizzle the vegetables with oil and bake. Actually, this appetizer tastes good at room temperature. The lemon dip can be prepared well in advance. I like to offer an appetizer like this one because it allows guests to eat and talk for a while before the main course. The cook can do the same because the second course preparations were done ahead.
Much of the second course will have been completed by the time you are ready to serve. The garlic paste can be prepared ahead of time and smeared on the bread just before you put it in the oven. You can put the garlic bread in the oven (the oven will be hot and is the same temperature you used for the vegetables) while you cook the fish in the broth and dress the salad. Serve the stew in a soup terrine, if you have one. Just before placing the dishes on the table, I like to move the parfaits from the freezer to the refrigerator. Put the topping and chocolate on when you are ready to serve them. You will have enjoyed this dinner as much as your guests.
Dinner Party Menu For Four
- Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”
- Italian Fisherman’s Stew
- Ok For You Garlic Bread
- Salad of Baby Lettuces with Italian Dressing
- Almond Mocha Parfait
Oven Fried “Fritto Misto”
A favorite in Italy, fritto misto (mixed fry) is an assortment of bite-size pieces of vegetables or other foods that are dipped in batter, deep-fried and served as an appetizer. My version keeps it healthy by using the “oven fry” method.
2 cups vegetables (your pick)
- cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
- green beans, halved
- fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- zucchini, cut into ¼ “ slices
- frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
- asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into thirds
- 3 eggs, beaten or 3/4 cup egg substitute
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce, recipe below
Cut vegetables, rinse them off and drain on paper towels.
Spray 2 large 13×9 inch glass baking dishes with olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Place the eggs in a shallow dish.
In a deep wide bowl place the flour mixed with the cheese and spices.
Dip each piece of vegetable first into the egg, and then into the flour mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.
Put the vegetables in the prepared baking dishes and drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until browned, turning them over with a fork halfway through the cooking time. Serve with the lemon mayonnaise sauce.
Lemon Mayonnaise Sauce
- 1 cup low-fat olive oil mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about ½ lemon)
Whisk together and chill in a serving bowl. Garnish top with chopped parsley.
Italian Fisherman’s Stew
Halibut is a favorite fish in this dish, but you can use cod, snapper or grouper. You can substitute a cooked lobster or 1 cup of cooked crab meat or squid for any of the fish in the recipe.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 (28-32 ounce) container Italian chopped tomatoes
- 1 finely grated rind and juice of orange
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups bottled clam broth
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chopped roasted red peppers
- 1 pounds firm white fish fillets, cut into 2” inch pieces
- 1 dozen clams or mussels
- 1 pound sea scallops, cut into halves
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Chopped parsley
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, orange rind and juice, sugar, chile flakes, wine, clam broth, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
The broth can be prepared several hours ahead. Cover and let sit on the stove until close to dinner time. You can also prepare the broth a day ahead . Cool and refrigerate. Bring the broth to a boil when you are ready to complete the dish and then add the fish as indicated in the recipe.
Add roasted red peppers and stir in the fish, scallops and shrimp and simmer for about 5 minutes. Next add clams, pushing them down into the soup a little. Cover the pot and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the clams are steamed open and cooked through.
Discard any clams that do not open. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil.
Pasta bowls work well for serving this dish; garnish with a little chopped parsley. It’s best to have a side plate for each diner to hold empty shells.
Ok For You Garlic Bread
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 Italian bread baguette, cut in half lengthwise
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Place garlic in a small saucepan with enough cold water to cover and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook 3 minutes and drain.
Mash the cooked garlic, oil and salt in a small bowl with the back of a spoon until a smooth paste forms. Spread the mixture over the cut surfaces of the bread.
Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake until the bread begins to brown around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Slice and serve.
Salad of baby lettuces and sliced black olives with Italian dressing
Almond Mocha Parfait
- 3 cups low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen low-fat yogurt, softened
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso granules
- 8 teaspoons Amaretto
- 1/2 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (8 cookies)
- 4 tablespoons reduced-calorie frozen whipped topping
- Grated chocolate
Combine ice cream and espresso granules; stir well.
Spoon 1/4 cup ice cream mixture into each of 4 (8-ounce) parfait glasses or pretty stemware.
Top mixture with 1 teaspoon amaretto and 1 tablespoon cookie crumbs.
Repeat layers, ending with ice cream mixture; freeze 1 hour.
Top each parfait with 1 tablespoon whipped topping and grated chocolate.
Serve immediately. Serves 4.
- Daring to Try Something New! (plotmamas.wordpress.com)
- My big sister Dina’s a much better cook than me – here’s her amazing fish stew recipe (mirror.co.uk)