Midsummer Italian Feast

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STORY AND PHOTOS BY SYLVIA FOUNTAINE

Have you ever wondered why food in far-off places like Tuscany or Provence tastes so much better than at home? More often than not, it’s because dishes are prepared with locally grown ingredients — produce just picked, perfectly ripe, and at its peak flavor.

Here, in the Northwest, summer is a time of abundance – and for those who like to cook, it is a dream. Farmers markets are laden with a wide array of local produce, at its best. And this is the secret to creating delicious meals that take you to the hills of Tuscany.

Ingredients that are grown nearby spend more time on the mother plant, and because they don’t have to travel very far, that gives them more time to ripen naturally and develop more intense flavor.

Grilled Eggplant Caponata Bruschetta

In this summer Italian feast, local produce sets the table for a sun-savory al fresco dinner.

serves 10 to 12 | 40 minutes

Ingredients

1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
olive oil for brushing eggplant and baguette
1 red bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise, seeds and stem removed
1 baguette, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup basil leaves, packed, then cut into ribbons.

Recipe

Heat grill to medium-high heat.

Brush both sides of eggplant rounds with olive oil.

Brush both sides of baguette slices with olive oil.

Once grill is hot, grill brushed eggplant slices 4 minutes on each side, until noticeable grill marks appear, turning heat to medium if necessary. Stack grilled eggplant slices and cover tightly with foil.

Grill the red pepper halves over medium-high heat until just tender and grill marks appear. Place with the eggplant under the foil.

Grill the baguette slices until toasted. (Alternatively, you may bake the bread on a sheet pan in a 375°F oven until crisp, and do this the day before.)

Uncover the eggplant and let cool, then dice into small 1/3-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Dice the bell pepper the same. Add the garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, capers, and salt. Taste and add salt if necessary, remembering that the bread will dilute some of the salt.

Right before serving, stir in the basil ribbons. To make ribbons, stack the basil leaves uniformly. Roll up from point end to stem end. Thinly slice the roll.

Serve the grilled baguette alongside the eggplant caponata, or place a tablespoon on each piece, garnishing with more basil.

Nectarine, Heirloom Tomato, Beet, and Burrata Salad

In this colorful, Italian-inspired salad, seasonal Northwest nectarines, tomatoes, and beets come together with soft, creamy burrata cheese and fresh basil — a feast for the senses. Northwest Nectarines add an unexpected twist to this classic Italian salad, which combines seasonal stone fruit, tomatoes, and beets with soft, creamy burrata cheese and fresh basil.

serves 4 | 20 minutes

Salad

2 balls burrata cheese, each cut in half
2 large, ripe nectarines (or peaches), cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 roasted (or steamed) beet (optional, but it adds flavor and color), diced
handful small basil leaves (or Thai basil)
pinch salt
cracked pepper to taste

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or 2 1/2  tablespoons red balsamic vinegar)
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt, pepper

Recipe

Place the burrata cheese halves open-side down in the center of 4 plates.

Divide nectarine wedges among the four plates in a crescent shape.

Arrange tomato wedges in between the nectarines, keeping the crescent shape.

Scatter the roasted beet dice and fresh basil leaves (or cut into ribbons) over the crescent.

Season the plates with sea salt and pepper.

In a small pot or saucepan, whisk the dressing ingredients together, just gently warming. Spoon it over the salads and serve.

Grilled Zucchini Ribbons with Lemon, Sea Salt and Olive Oil

In this recipe, small flavorful zucchini are thinly sliced into long ribbons and just lightly grilled. Simply seasoned with lemon, salt, and olive oil, the zucchini really stands out.

serves 4 | 20 minutes

Ingredients

4 small zucchini (6 inches long, 1 inch thick)
olive oil for brushing
pinch sea salt and pepper
1 lemon, zest and juice

Recipe

Preheat grill to medium.

Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, thinly slice the zucchini into long vertical ribbons. (Or simply slice at an angle into 1/2-inch disks. See note below.)

Brush both sides of the zucchini ribbons with olive oil, and grease the grill well.

Lightly grill the zucchini ribbons, just 1–2 minutes each side, or until grill marks appear. While on the grill, season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in a bowl. Top with 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and a generous squeeze of lemon. Toss lightly. This is OK to serve at room temperature.

Note: If grilling thicker zucchini rounds, increase heat to medium-high and let the zucchini cook a bit longer, 3-4 minutes each side.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Italian Salsa Verde

Simple, flavorful, grilled lamb chops, perfect for the summer months, served with a fresh and zesty Italian relish called salsa Verde. Light and healthy.

serves 4 | 25 minutes

Lamb

8-12 lamb chops, frenched, cut down to single chops
olive oil for brushing
salt and pepper to taste

Italian-Style Salsa Verde

1 cup Italian parsley (packed, tender stems OK)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 large garlic clove
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 anchovy (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons caper liquid
2 tablespoons capers
salt and pepper to taste

Recipe

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Brush lamb chops with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and optional anchovy in a food processor. Pulse repeatedly until uniformly chopped. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and caper liquid. Pulse to combine (but do not make this smooth).  Scrape into bowl. Stir in capers. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the grill is hot, sear the chops for a few minutes on each side. You want good grill marks, while leaving the chops slightly rare on the inside, so a hot grill is essential. When cooked, plate and serve with Italian Salsa Verde spooned over the top.

Note: You can order lamb already frenched from the butcher or meat counter to keep this simple and easy. Then, with a sharp knife, simply slice down between each bone to create a single chop about 1-inch thick.


Sylvia Fountaine, author of Feasting at Home Blog, is a Pacific Northwest chef, recipe developer, and food photographer. Find more of her work at feastingathome.com

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