Love food but don’t want to turn your home into a furnace during the summer? Looking for quick and easy, healthy ideas for a picnic or dining outdoors with friends? Here are three recipes I created based on dishes I ate in Italy last summer.
The first recipe is a summer take on everyone’s favourite – aubergine (eggplant) parmesan. While I begin to salivate at the thought of the gooey melted mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese layered with slabs of fried aubergine and tangy tomato sauce, the idea of eating this in the heat (much less cooking it), I find infinitely less appealing. The genius of this recipe is that it maintains the flavours of the original dish but offers more freshness and texture. Freshly sliced tomato is layered with soft, cold mozzarella cheese, basil and grilled aubergine. The only heat needed is to grill the aubergine which is most easily done using a cast iron grill pan.
The second recipe is a play on the traditional prosciutto and melon starter, common in Italy during the summer. The ice cold sweet juicy melon is a natural pair for the salty sweet cured ham. In this recipe I crisp the prosciutto quickly in a pan to give a contrast in texture. A good friend gave us a whole leg of prosciutto as a gift one year not knowing I was pregnant and was not permitted to eat prosciutto. Never one to be deterred from eating, I would crisp my prosciutto in a frying pan and snack away. Since then I have been using prosciutto crisps in salad, with fish and now with soup. The dish is super simple to make and is easily portable (just give a shake or stir to the melon before serving).
Farro in Italy usually refers to Emmer wheat but can also be spelt or einkorn depending which part of Italy you are in. To make this recipe I usually buy pre-cooked emmer wheat or spelt but the pearled versions of these grains usually take 12-20 minutes to boil. Pearl barley is also a good substitute. The chewy grains of farro contrast nicely with the pan-fried summer squash and the earthy pecorino. If you do have to cook the farro, it can be done the night before when it is cooler and tossed when cool the next day with the zucchini. Add the pecorino just before serving.
Melanzane alla parmigiana d’estate (Summer aubergine (eggplant) parmesan)
500 grams round or oblong aubergine, rinsed, stem end removed and cut into ½ cm thick rounds
250 grams mozzarella (preferably made from buffalo milk), cut into 1 cm thick rounds
12 basil leaves
500 grams tomatoes (best quality possible), rinsed, stem removed and cut into ½ cm thick rounds
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
black pepper, freshly ground
Mix 60 grams of salt with 150 mls of boiling water and stir to dissolve the salt. Add 1.5 liters of cold water. Soak the aubergine rounds in the salted water to cover (add more cold water if needed) for an hour. Remove from the water and squeeze out any excess water. Brush the rounds on both sides with olive oil and grill on a hot cast iron grill pan or on a barbecue (about 5 minutes per side). Remove and cool.
Place a slice of tomato on a plate and sprinkle salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil over the top. Next add a piece of mozzarella and a leaf of basil. Top with a piece of aubergine. Repeat 3 times ending with a sprig of basil. You can put a skewer through the top of it to hold it in place if necessary. Repeat with the remaining 3 servings and serve.
Zuppa di melone con prosciutto (Melon soup with prosciutto crisps)
1 canteloupe, refrigerated, peeled, seeded and cut into large chunks
5 mls sherry vinegar
100 grams prosciutto
Heat an empty frying pan over high heat and add the prosciutto to the pan in a single layer. As the prosciutto discolours, 1 to 2 minutes, turn to crisp the other side (another 1 to 2 minutes). Remove from the pan and place on a kitchen paper lined plate to cool. Repeat with the remaining prosciutto. When the prosciutto crisps are cool, break them into bite size pieces with your hands. They should crumble easily. See a step-by-step guide here.
Place the cantaloupe and the sherry in a blender and puree. Pour the melon puree in a bowl and top with the prosciutto crisps. Serve.
Insalata di farro con zucchine e pecorino (Farro salad with zucchini and pecorino)
200 grams farro – typically emmer wheat (can substitute spelt or pearl barley)
2 cloves garlic, bruised (or finely chopped if you like garlic)
500 grams zucchini, rinsed, ends removed and cut into 1 cm pieces ½ cm thick
¼ teaspoon marjoram (can substitute 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint)
pecorino cheese, shaved
1 lemon, juiced
70 mls extra-virgin olive oil
Follow the instructions on the package for preparing the farro. The untreated farro needs to be soaked overnight and cooked in salted water with a garlic clove for 40 minutes. Pearled farro does not need to be soaked and cook in 12 minutes, so check the package. Follow the instructions on the package to cook the farro.
When the farro is cooked, drain and let it cool.
Meanwhile fry the garlic in a frying pan with 30 mls of olive oil and salt. When the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, add the zucchini and marjoram. Fry, stirring occasionally until the zucchini is cooked to taste (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and allow the zucchini to cool.
Toss the zucchini and farro together with the pecorino cheese, lemon juice and remaining 40 mls olive oil. Add seasoning to taste and serve.