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.
Benefits of Buying Seasonal Produce
Cost: Seasonal food is often cheaper than out of season produce because it doesn’t require anywhere near as much effort to produce. If it’s the right season, food can be pretty much left to grow on it’s own, meaning it’s far less labor intensive and time-consuming. As consumers, we have gotten used to seeing strawberries in our stores all year round and many of us don’t realise the hidden costs of having out of season produce available. We may, also, forget what the taste of real, seasonal strawberries are like.
Flavour/taste: Blueberries and cherries taste great in the summer but buy them in the winter and you will be disappointed with the taste, texture and flavor. Food that’s allowed to grow and ripen properly is far tastier than artificially produced food that’s travelled thousands of miles to reach the supermarket shelves. On a positive note, some supermarkets are starting to stock produce from local suppliers and you often find the number of air miles (or the country of origin) printed on the packaging which allows us to make a more informed choice.
New experiences with food: If you follow the seasons (as opposed to a shopping list) you’ll also find a more rich and varied collection of fruit and vegetables, which will entice little ones to experience lots of interesting tastes and textures.
Seasonal Ingredient Map
Use Epicurious’ interactive map to see what’s fresh in your area, plus find ingredient descriptions, shopping guides, recipes, and tips.
Summer Vegetable Pizzas
Most fresh seasonal vegetables are delicious on pizza — thinly sliced red or green tomatoes, sweet peppers (red, green, yellow or orange), red onions, scallions, finely chopped broccoli, sliced mushrooms and asparagus tips. Fresh herbs will give intense flavor and fragrance — oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, arugula, dill and plenty of fresh minced garlic. Keep the combinations simple and light without adding too much cheese. Thinly sliced green tomatoes with basil leaves, oregano, scallions and garlic are colorful and inviting choices.
Use a mixture of Italian (parmigiano reggiano, asiago, pecorino romano, fontina) and other imported cheeses, such as Irish cheddar, French gruyere or English cheddar. Look for flavorful American artisanal cheeses or sharp white Vermont cheddar (Cabot). Grate and mix two or three cheeses together. Keep the cheeses in the refrigerator until ready to use.
All-purpose unbleached flour makes an excellent crust, with a deep golden color and a rich baked taste. Add whole-wheat flour for a more nutritious, nutty taste.
2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour and 2 cups King Arthur white whole-wheat flour
2 packages dry rapid rise yeast
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Mix the flour, salt and yeast in an electric mixer (such as a KitchenAid) using the dough hook, Mix very warm water and the olive oil together. Pour the liquids into the flour mixture. Knead with mixer for about 10 minutes, until the dough comes together. It will form a ball and should be firm and not sticky. Place the dough in a deep oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place. It will double in size in about one hour. While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings.
Putting It Together
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. You will need two large pizza baking pans, greased and very lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.
Shape the dough to fit the pizza pan using oiled fingers. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Sprinkle the dough with a small amount of the grated mixed cheeses. This will help to seal the dough and keep it crisp. Top with sliced tomatoes, other vegetables, garlic and herbs. Season the pizza with freshly ground white pepper. Lightly sprinkle more grated mixed cheese or crumbled feta or shredded mozzarella cheese on top.
Don’t use too many ingredients and leave space between the toppings, so that the pizza will turn out crisp. The preheated oven should have racks on the bottom and the middle. Place one pizza on the bottom rack and one on the middle rack for about 10 minutes. Switch positions and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted, but not brown. Pizzas can be baked separately on the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes.
Some Ideas To Get You Started
Summer Vegetable Pizza
When peppers, sweet corn, and cherry tomatoes are at their peak, there’s nothing like enjoying them on pizza.
- 1 large pizza crust, recipe above
- 1 cup homemade marinara sauce
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels
- 2 bell peppers, sliced thin
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degree F. Stretch or roll pizza dough out to cover a 16 inch pizza pan.
In a small bowl mix marinara sauce, garlic, olive oil, and oregano. Spread evenly over the dough. Top with corn, peppers, and tomatoes. Season vegetables with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Top with basil, mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake for about 20 minutes at or until the top is golden, and bubbly – and the crust is browned and cooked underneath. Let cool before slicing.
Herbs and Tomato, Kalamata Olive Pizza with Peppers, Arugula, Onions, Basil, Olives, and Cheese
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
2 oz. Italian fontina, shredded
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup of fresh arugula, chopped
1 cup fresh basil leaf (julienne)
1 cup plum tomatoes, sliced
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
½ medium sweet onion, sliced into strips
4 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 small hot chile, chopped (crushed red pepper may substitute)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Arrange topping ingredients on pizza dough and bake as directed above.
Now create some summer pizzas of your own based on what is in season in your area.
- It’s Friday Let’s Have Pizza! (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Make a pizza at home (dpatlarge.wordpress.com)
- Pizza in the garden (freshlyseasoned.wordpress.com)
- Homemade Pizza (cutoutandkeep.net)
- Naples chefs take sides in the ‘ultra pizza’ wars (guardian.co.uk)
- Salad Pizza (spicesandspackle.com)