It’s hot! Writing this, it has been hovering around 100 degrees for four days. Fa caldo! We all have our strategies for keeping cool - fans pointing right at us, a handheld folding fan for outside (can you picture all of us Italian ladies fanning ourselves over an outdoor lunch?), lightweight dresses, and judicious use of air conditioning if we are lucky enough to have it. I laugh watching locals and tourists alike dash across Tuscany’s famous sun-drenched piazzas in search of a bit of shade or walking single file up a narrow strip of shade in the street. What we won’t do to keep cool!
The heat also necessitates a change in eating habits. While restaurants still serve pasta dishes, gone are the heaviest soups and stews. In their place are appetizers made with fresh fruits, cheeses, and thinly sliced meats, along with salads and lightly sauced pastas. At home, no one seems to want to cook. Salads, panini, and simple meat and cheese plates are about all I can manage on sweltering summer days. Cold drinks go a long way toward cooling us off too. In hot weather, eating and drinking cool are musts. Luckily, Italy provides no shortage of wonderful summer food choices.
One of my favorite summertime treats is an Iced coffee (called a caffe shakerato here in Lucca). They taste even better when sipped on a pretty Italian piazza. To make a delicious one at home, use a battery-operated whisk to froth cold milk and then add cold coffee, along with sweetener and a few ice cubes. Refreshing!
While we are on the subject of drinks, my go-to summer cocktail is the classic Aperol spritz. Brightly colored, a touch bitter, with a little bit of fizz from prosecco and topped off with a slice of orange. Tastes just like a summer evening in Italy.
Summer food choices seem endless. Prosciutto stars in two hot weather appetizers - one with melon (a deliciously ripe cantaloupe) and the other with figs. I can’t decide which is my favorite. Either one becomes a main dish with the addition of a little mozzarella or burrata and a bit of focaccia.
A big salad is the perfect hot weather meal and a summertime restaurant staple in Tuscany. My current favorite featuress big chunks of avocado, a bit of bacon, and a fried egg on top of a bowl of greens and veggies (at Cafe Manon Lescaut in Lucca). Delicious too is a Caesar salad - invented in Mexico (or California, depending on who you believe) by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini. The one below is from Il Bernino, one of my favorite lunch spots in Lucca.
No need to go out for a delicious summer meal. My go-to at home is a Nicoise salad. It has French origins but is definitely popular in Lucca where our largest piazza is named Napoleone after all.
Another classic Italian summer dish is Vitello Tonnato - cold veal slices with a sauce made of tuna. I admit that I thought this a strange combo at first, but after hearing several friends declare it wonderful, I decided to give it a try. It turns out it is delicious (how could I have doubted the tastiness of a classic Italian dish?) and the two seemingly disparate flavors blend beautifully.
As for hot weather desserts - look no further than gelato. It’s the perfect late afternoon treat, in a cone or a cup. Better yet, in Italy, it’s normal to get three flavors at once!
-post by Joanne who gladly did the research for this one!