Italy’s Amazing Summer Fruits

sculpture above done by Ross when she attended liceo artistico

Summer has arrived, and with it everyone’s favorite fruits – along with the desire to mangiare leggero (“eat light”) in the heat. At this time of year it’s not unusual to see mounds of cherries served as dessert, antipasto, or snack at parties and dinners. Juicy, sweet, bursting with flavor, all these need is a place to discard the pits and stems:

An Italian saying related to cherries (and applied to other things) is: una tira l’altra (“one pulls another”), as in: “I ate so many because they just kept coming out of the bowl, one after the other, their stems entangled…”

Have you ever seen more perfect plums? They come in many varieties and colors (blue, red, yellow, pink, purple), and all taste as good as they look:

If you’re visiting Italy in summer, here’s a restaurant tip: instead of dessert, order frutta di stagione (seasonal fruit). You may be asked what you want specifically, so here’s a little vocabulary:

  • pesche [PESS-kay] peaches
  • prugne [PROON-yay] plums
  • albicocche [al-bi-KOK-kay] apricots
  • ciliegie [chili-AY-JAY] cherries
  • pesche noci [PESS-kay NO-chee] nectarines
  • fichi [FEE-key] figs – these are often served as an antipasto, with prosciutto crudo – don’t miss it!
  • lamponi [lam-PONE-ee] raspberries
  • mirtilli [meer-TEEL-lee] blueberries

NB: Berries are known collectively as frutti di bosco (“forest fruits”). If you get a chance to eat fresh-picked wild blueberries (very occasionally available at restaurants and fruitsellers) do NOT pass it up. If you hike, keep your eyes peeled: you can find wild raspberries and blackberries free for the picking.

Peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries may be served floating in, or alongside, a large bowl of cold water. Dip the fruit in and swish it around to clean it, then eat! Many Italians peel their peaches with a knife before eating (often they are so ripe that the peel will slip away from the flesh with very little assistance), but you’re not obliged to – you’ll find that the skin is much thinner than you’re used to on American peaches.

Italian Recipes: Torta di Pane (Bread Cake)

This is a good way to use old, dry bread. The recipe is more or less one that I scribbled down from a magazine in a waiting room.

  • Cut/break 1/2 kilo of dry bread into smallish dice
  • Soak it overnight (in the fridge) in about 1 liter of milk; I also add a few tablespoons of amaretto or other liqueur
  • Mix two eggs with 50 gm melted butter, 200 gm sugar, and 50 gm cocoa powder (unsweetened is fine)
  • Add a grating of lemon peel, raisins, pine nuts or other nuts. I also tend to toss in any other dried fruit I have around, e.g. figs.
  • Mix in the soaked bread; I use an electric mixer, which also helps pulverize the bread into smaller pieces, but the batter will not be smooth in any case
  • Bake at 175 C / 350 F for about an hour   It’s okay if it comes out a bit puddingy. It tastes best when warm, and reheats well in the microwave.

Italian Recipes: Scrippelle

Saturday night we had scrippelle, a traditional treat from Abruzzo. You can think of them as crepes made without milk, or very, very thin omelettes. These had been home-made for us by family friends, Enrico brought them back carefully wrapped in layers of plastic with a wet dishtowel, storing them in fridges when he stopped along the way. They freeze very well, but we decided to eat them right away.

The simplest way to prepare scrippelle is to roll them up with lots of freshly-grated parmigiano inside, place three in a shallow bowl, and pour fresh, hot chicken broth over them. Sprinkle with some more parmigiano if you like, and dig in.

Italian Recipes: Panzanella

Today’s lunch was panzanella, another good thing to eat while tomatoes are in season. I more or less follow the recipe from The New Basics Cookbook, except that I didn’t have any of the herbs. Basically, you make home-made croutons by frying chunks of dry, old bread.

…which is a great way to use up dry, old bread, BTW. We always end up with a lot, partly because we overbuy and undereat, and Italian fresh bread goes stale very quickly, sometimes within the day. Whatever I can’t use up making croutons, or bread cake (recipe another day), or crumbs, goes to the horses – horses love dry bread.

Where was I? Bread: chop into 1-inch cubes (roughly), sauté in butter and olive oil with minced garlic, fresh herbs if you have them. Pepper. Remove from pan into a large bowl, toss with fresh-ground cheese. The recipe says parmigiano, my grater currently contains odds and ends of sharp aged cheeses, I don’t even know what all.

Then chop ripe tomatoes, thinly slice red onions, toss with oil, red vinegar, salt, and pepper. When ready to eat, add the croutons.