When we from Northern Europe think of Italy it’s always summer. A shimmer of heat haze on quiet country roads. Black-clad grandmothers sitting at shady front doors. Old men gathered in groups, the screech of a motor scooter. All very evocative but it’s also good food that we associate with Italy.
Recipes from an Italian Summer is a mammoth and stunning collection of 380 or so authentic recipes for summer eating. It’s the latest compilation from the team that bought us the much-celebrated Silver Spoon (review here). That book is so well regarded by Italians that it’s often given as a wedding gift.
This has the same mark of quality in both presentation and content. There is a raft of photographs to tempt you into the kitchen and the dishes themselves are often simple and always delicious. The taupe-coloured pages give a soft and organic feel to the book. The typewriter type face makes this volume feel something like a well-loved family recipe archive.
Yes, Italians love food but they are far less anxious about it than their neighbours the French. An Italian will want you to love the dishes she has prepared, she might suggest that her version of something is the best to be had, but they are happy to let the food speak for itself. They lack the overwhelming self-publicity of most French, although there are exceptions. Nigella Lawson wrote in the Independent way back in 1992 that “French cooking may be about showing off the skills of the cook, but Italian seeks only to draw attention to the food.” A sweeping generalisation, but broadly true.
Recipes from an Italian Summer is divided by occasion, starting with Picnics and progressing through Salads, Barbecues, Lunches and Suppers to Summer Entertaining, Desserts, Drinks and, naturally, Ice Cream. These pages will prepare you for the half-expected British summer. If you want to celebrate Italian festivals then the authors have thoughtfully supplied a list of them, along with the traditional accompanying foods. You might be barbecuing in Basingstoke but if you are grilling trout during the last week of May and the first week of June then you’ll be celebrating Sangra Della Trota just like they do in Venezia.
Recipes from an Italian Summer offers dishes that are, for the most part, simple to prepare. Squid stuffed with Shrimp from the Summer Entertaining chapter is a must-try. It has surprisingly few ingredients to create an end result which would be a stunning main course for a July dinner party.
The Light Lunches and Suppers section suggests a few pasta dishes that beat spag bol hands down. Seafood Linguine has clams and mussels as the main ingredients. These shellfish are good value for money these days but they still retain that air of luxury. A light dish with a tomato-based sauce. If you want to push out the metaphoric boat then consider Spaghetti with Lobster. On the other hand if cash is tight you might want to try the clean taste of the traditional Spaghetti with Raw Tomato. A perfect supper for a hot summer night.
Italy is famed for its ice cream. Many of us own ice cream makers these days so it’s easier than ever to approximate those delicious frozen desserts remembered from balmy evenings in Ancona or Rome. Strawberry and Yogurt Ice Cream is a three-part recipe of ice cream, sauce and purée. Don’t feel daunted: make the ice cream in advance, and the other two elements will be quickly accomplished a while before serving.
Recipes from an Italian Summer is a visual stunner but more importantly it’s a practical cookbook filled with some of the best recipes Italy has to offer. If you liked Silver Spoon then you’ll want a copy of this. You won’t be disappointed.
Recipes from an Italian Summer
Published by: Phaidon
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018