Southern Italy is a joy to visit year round, but there’s something about the late spring, early summer when the rich, less-industrial lands of the South burst forth with an abundance of fruits and vegetables so full of flavor that little else is needed to make them into a perfect summer meal. Thanks to this, there are wonderfully simple recipes that, with a visit to your local farmer’s market, you can effortlessly recreate for your next summer get-together.
Having just returned to the States after an extensive period in Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily, these are some of the refreshing dishes my palate misses the most:
Orange, Olive and Fennel Salad
This is a dish you can find all over Italy, but Sicily is most famous for its oranges. (Depending on the growing season for oranges near you, this recipe might be better earlier spring.) The other main ingredients: black olives and fennel are easy to find year-round. It’s incredible easy to assemble and makes a beautiful presentation. Here’s a recipe from Saveur.
Cialledda (Bread and Tomato Salad)
Pronounced cha-led-dah, this dish hails from Basilicata and Puglia, two regions famous for a crusty bread that has served as one of their food staples for centuries. Cialledda was born out of making use of stale bread by adding chopped juicy, ripe tomatoes, olive oil, salt and a pinch or two of dry oregano to the bread cubes. Yes, just five ingredients! Keep it simple or add olives, cucumbers, red onions, tuna and basil for a richer tasting salad. Here’s a link to a great cialledda recipe and a resource for the bread salads of Italy.
Pasta alla Norma
This pasta dish, consisting mainly of fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata, is the dish from Catania, Sicily. It’s named after Catanian composer Vicenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, after an epicurean playwright tasting a new dish at a restaurant in Catania exclaimed, “Chista è ‘na vera Norma!” (This is a true Norma!)—referring to both the excellence of the opera and the pasta. It is one of my favorite ways to put summer’s tomatoes, eggplants and basil to good use! I like The New York Times’ Norma recipe, which you can find here.
Oh, granita, how I love you, let me count the ways…infinity! There, now that that’s done, I will simply say that this is the best way to finish a meal on a hot summer’s eve. The lemon and sugar do their jobs well: they clean your palate and give you a boost of energy to help get you back home or dance the night away. With just four ingredients and minimal prep (though you need to check in with it for a few hours), it’s an easy dessert recipe to make in the mix of other dishes. For a lemon thyme granita, check out this recipe from Taste of Home.